The Long History of Complaints Over Filner’s Behavior

The Long History of Complaints Over Filner’s Behavior

File photo by Sam Hodgson

Mayor Bob Filner

Just two weeks ago, in the wake of the resignation of two top aides, Mayor Bob Filner said he’d reflect on how he was treating his staff.

“Clearly, anybody who’s intelligent would have to undergo some self-examination,” Filner said.

This week, many of Filner’s top progressive allies said that his behavior, particularly toward women, has become irredeemable.

“I have recently received credible evidence of more than one woman being sexually harassed by you,” former City Councilwoman Donna Frye wrote in a letter to Filner Tuesday, first reported by KPBS. Frye was Filner’s first hire in the mayor’s office; she left in April.

“I cannot in good conscience remain silent on this, even if those who have spoken to me choose to do so out of fear of retribution or the possibility of a media circus where they could be twice victimized,” Frye said in the letter.

Frye and environmental attorneys Marco Gonzalez and Cory Briggs have asked Filner to resign.

Gonzalez told KPBS that he’s representing “multiple women” who claim Filner sexually harassed them, but that no suit had been filed yet.

Complaints about Filner’s aggressive tactics and treatment of his staff have a long history during his more than three decades in San Diego politics.

Filner, and his defenders, has always said his personality springs from the most impressive thing he’s done in his life: forcibly integrate the segregated South in 1961 and spend months in jail over it. From that moment, his strategy to create change was to make people uncomfortable.

But Filner’s aggressive personality has always created problems. During his 20 years in Congress, Filner had to pay a court-ordered fine for haranguing a female airport baggage clerk, antagonized federal immigration officers during a run-in at a detention center and made fierce enemies out of people who should have been allies.

“Bob Filner really taught me that power reveals you,” said Laurie Black, the former chief of staff for ex-Democratic Rep. Lynn Schenk, a longtime Filner foe.

In the mayoral campaign, Filner opponents tried to make the race about his personality. Rumors about Filner’s poor treatment of woman floated continuously and Republican candidate Carl DeMaio ran a creepy television ad featuring the female baggage clerk who Filner had gone after in 2007.

But no one came forward locally until Republican District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who finished fourth in the mayoral primary, endorsed DeMaio in late October.

“During the campaign as the only female in the race I felt that Mr. Filner was especially demeaning towards me,” Dumanis said then. “He was dismissive when he spoke to me, and very rarely did he speak to me. He was condescending. He was arrogant. And he was a bully.”

At the time, it was easy to dismiss Dumanis’ comments. They came a week before the general election and in the context of her endorsing Filner’s opponent.

In response to Dumanis’ claims, Filner released a list of prominent women supporters, including a congresswoman and multiple state legislators. Also on that list was Frye.

Frye was at Filner’s big press conference in January when the new mayor debuted his staff, hailing its diversity and the fact that more than half of his hires were women.

At the press conference, Filner acknowledged he was hard to work for, but said it was all in the name of getting results.

“I’m a pretty hard driver of people,” he said.

Frye was among the first to leave Filner’s office. He’s also lost at least three schedulers, all of them women. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, Filner’s most frequent antagonist, told his staff that they weren’t allowed to visit the mayor’s office without a witness, and his directive especially applied to women.

But no Filner ally had spoken publicly about a hostile work environment until Filner’s deputy chief of staff Allen Jones resigned last month.

“When I see mayor’s staff treated in that demeaning of a manner so often, if I remained, I believed I was being complicit in sustaining that abusive environment and I can’t do that,” Jones said.

It was after Jones’ resignation, and that of the mayor’s top spokeswoman, Irene McCormack, that Filner said it was time for self-reflection.

If that’s happened, Filner isn’t talking about it.

At a luncheon Wednesday for a trade group of the local security industry, Filner talked all about making the city better prepared for emergencies.

After he spoke, I asked him how he responded when Frye asked him to resign.

“I have no response to that,” Filner said.

Then I asked if he had any intention of resigning. Filner walked away.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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21 comments
Donald Gillies
Donald Gillies

I suspected that I might have made a mistake in voting for Filner, when Donna Frye left her post, created by Filner exclusively for her, only a few months after she assumed it, in San Diego city government. It was either his abrasiveness, or a self-preservation instinct, that caused her to leave. When a bad manager is alienating some of San Diego's best democratic politicians, why keep him on the job? You cannot govern by fear and intimidation forever. A positive work environment always triumps a negative one, over the long haul, making people more productive.

Donald Gillies
Donald Gillies subscribermember

I suspected that I might have made a mistake in voting for Filner, when Donna Frye left her post, created by Filner exclusively for her, only a few months after she assumed it, in San Diego city government. It was either his abrasiveness, or a self-preservation instinct, that caused her to leave. When a bad manager is alienating some of San Diego's best democratic politicians, why keep him on the job? You cannot govern by fear and intimidation forever. A positive work environment always triumps a negative one, over the long haul, making people more productive.

Bob Mcdonald
Bob Mcdonald

No one doubts that Filner is a jerk. But he is a jerk to everyone. But, I don't know if his being a jerk to women constitutes sexual harassment according to federal guidelines. I will say that he is very good at making people uncomfortable and upsetting the San Diego good old boy/developer network. I feel that he has done many good things for the city. It would be unfortunate if he is indeed guilty of sexual harassment as this city needs a good shaking up. I sense some sort of collusion by the three to put the mayor on the defensive as a way to moderate his behavior. I also find the party chairwoman Francine Busby's very carefully worded statement distancing herself from the accusers claims that there is some sort of power play going on. The nature of politics requires that one create alliances to cover your back and strengthen your position. Unfortunately, Mr Filner is not very good at doing that. This could be the undoing of his administration if he is able to successfully defend himself from these charges. It's lonely at the top. Good Luck Bob. Below is a definition of what constitutes sexual harassment. Courts and employers generally use the definition of sexual harassment contained in the guidelines of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This language has also formed the basis for most state laws prohibiting sexual harassment. The guidelines state: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. (29 C.F.R. § 1604.11 [1980]) A key part of the definition is the use of the word unwelcome. Unwelcome or uninvited conduct or communication of a sexual nature is prohibited; welcome or invited actions or words are not unlawful. Sexual or romantic interaction between consenting people at work may be offensive to observers or may violate company policy, but it is not sexual harassment. The courts have generally concluded that a victim need not say or do a particular thing to indicate unwelcomeness. Instead, a court will review all of the circumstances to determine whether it was reasonably clear to the harasser that the conduct was unwelcome. The courts have recognized that victims may be afraid to express their discomfort if the harasser is their boss or is physically intimidating. Victims may be coerced into going along with sexual talk or activities because they believe they will be punished or fired if they protest. Consent can be given to a relationship and then withdrawn when the relationship ends. Once it is withdrawn, continued romantic or sexual words or actions are not protected by the past relationship and may be sexual harassment. The law prohibits unwelcome "sexual" conduct and words or actions "of a sexual nature." Some conduct, such as hugging, may be sexual or nonsexual and must be evaluated in context. Sexual harassment may be physical, such as kissing, hugging, pinching, patting, grabbing, blocking the victim's path, leering or staring, or standing very close to the victim. It may also be verbal, which may be oral or written and could include requests

Bob Mcdonald
Bob Mcdonald subscriber

No one doubts that Filner is a jerk. But he is a jerk to everyone. But, I don't know if his being a jerk to women constitutes sexual harassment according to federal guidelines. I will say that he is very good at making people uncomfortable and upsetting the San Diego good old boy/developer network. I feel that he has done many good things for the city. It would be unfortunate if he is indeed guilty of sexual harassment as this city needs a good shaking up. I sense some sort of collusion by the three to put the mayor on the defensive as a way to moderate his behavior. I also find the party chairwoman Francine Busby's very carefully worded statement distancing herself from the accusers claims that there is some sort of power play going on. The nature of politics requires that one create alliances to cover your back and strengthen your position. Unfortunately, Mr Filner is not very good at doing that. This could be the undoing of his administration if he is able to successfully defend himself from these charges. It's lonely at the top. Good Luck Bob. Below is a definition of what constitutes sexual harassment. Courts and employers generally use the definition of sexual harassment contained in the guidelines of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This language has also formed the basis for most state laws prohibiting sexual harassment. The guidelines state: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. (29 C.F.R. § 1604.11 [1980]) A key part of the definition is the use of the word unwelcome. Unwelcome or uninvited conduct or communication of a sexual nature is prohibited; welcome or invited actions or words are not unlawful. Sexual or romantic interaction between consenting people at work may be offensive to observers or may violate company policy, but it is not sexual harassment. The courts have generally concluded that a victim need not say or do a particular thing to indicate unwelcomeness. Instead, a court will review all of the circumstances to determine whether it was reasonably clear to the harasser that the conduct was unwelcome. The courts have recognized that victims may be afraid to express their discomfort if the harasser is their boss or is physically intimidating. Victims may be coerced into going along with sexual talk or activities because they believe they will be punished or fired if they protest. Consent can be given to a relationship and then withdrawn when the relationship ends. Once it is withdrawn, continued romantic or sexual words or actions are not protected by the past relationship and may be sexual harassment. The law prohibits unwelcome "sexual" conduct and words or actions "of a sexual nature." Some conduct, such as hugging, may be sexual or nonsexual and must be evaluated in context. Sexual harassment may be physical, such as kissing, hugging, pinching, patting, grabbing, blocking the victim's path, leering or staring, or standing very close to the victim. It may also be verbal, which may be oral or written and could include requests

amy roth
amy roth

The problem is, as Fred Williams' post reveals, there are too many voters in this town who don't care about anything other than whether there's a D or an R before your name. The Ds have it, and so it's likely Filner will survive a recall. He won't resign, so he's Mayor for the next 4 1/2 years. By then everyone will have forgiven and forgotten -- "It's just Bob being Bob" will cover up whatever else he does -- and there you have it in America's Finest City. If only we could put an admirable central-tending guy like Todd Gloria in the Mayor's Office.

amy roth
amy roth subscribermember

The problem is, as Fred Williams' post reveals, there are too many voters in this town who don't care about anything other than whether there's a D or an R before your name. The Ds have it, and so it's likely Filner will survive a recall. He won't resign, so he's Mayor for the next 4 1/2 years. By then everyone will have forgiven and forgotten -- "It's just Bob being Bob" will cover up whatever else he does -- and there you have it in America's Finest City. If only we could put an admirable central-tending guy like Todd Gloria in the Mayor's Office.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

"At the time, it was easy to dismiss Dumanis’ comments" Sure, easy if your political agenda outweighed your journalistic integrity. Filner is the same guy he has always been, no curtain was pulled back on Filner. Left leaning journalists here in San Diego simply chose not to delve too deeply into who he was, because it was inconvenient to the left that Filner is, at heart, the sort of person the left wrongly accuses the right of being. Filner is Filner, if you were OK with who he was a month ago, a pretty poor human being who will do what the unions want him to on most days, why change now?

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

"At the time, it was easy to dismiss Dumanis’ comments" Sure, easy if your political agenda outweighed your journalistic integrity. Filner is the same guy he has always been, no curtain was pulled back on Filner. Left leaning journalists here in San Diego simply chose not to delve too deeply into who he was, because it was inconvenient to the left that Filner is, at heart, the sort of person the left wrongly accuses the right of being. Filner is Filner, if you were OK with who he was a month ago, a pretty poor human being who will do what the unions want him to on most days, why change now?

Fred Williams
Fred Williams

I'd like to see the allegations and the evidence. As to Bob Filner's personality, I cannot agree more. He's abrasive, even to those who would be his friends and supporters. I can't stand the man, personally, and every time I've met him he's antagonized me...even when I was supporting his positions and working hard to help him. But after a lifetime of volunteering on campaigns and seeing politicians up close, I have learned to distinguish between someone who's appealling and warm, and someone who's actually going to carry out their promises. If you want to get what you voted for, especially if you hope to upset the status quo, you must elect someone who's not looking to make friends, but out to get things done. I couldn't be more pleased with what Filner has accomplished. I'm also sure that he was able to achieve so much in such a short time because he's a jerk to pretty much everyone around him. If these allegations don't involve law breaking, though it makes me plenty angry that Filner continues to be an abrasive arrogant (expletive deleted), I will continue to support him virgorously. Anyone who went to work for Filner should known have from the start what to expect, and either have developed a thick skin and the willingness to slap the Mayor down if he's out of line, or not take the job.

Fred Williams
Fred Williams subscriber

I'd like to see the allegations and the evidence. As to Bob Filner's personality, I cannot agree more. He's abrasive, even to those who would be his friends and supporters. I can't stand the man, personally, and every time I've met him he's antagonized me...even when I was supporting his positions and working hard to help him. But after a lifetime of volunteering on campaigns and seeing politicians up close, I have learned to distinguish between someone who's appealling and warm, and someone who's actually going to carry out their promises. If you want to get what you voted for, especially if you hope to upset the status quo, you must elect someone who's not looking to make friends, but out to get things done. I couldn't be more pleased with what Filner has accomplished. I'm also sure that he was able to achieve so much in such a short time because he's a jerk to pretty much everyone around him. If these allegations don't involve law breaking, though it makes me plenty angry that Filner continues to be an abrasive arrogant (expletive deleted), I will continue to support him virgorously. Anyone who went to work for Filner should known have from the start what to expect, and either have developed a thick skin and the willingness to slap the Mayor down if he's out of line, or not take the job.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin

Put up or shut up Donna. At this point they are allegations, undefined "Sexual Harassment" claims. If the agenda is to remove Filner so be it but these progressives should be required to back it up.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

Put up or shut up Donna. At this point they are allegations, undefined "Sexual Harassment" claims. If the agenda is to remove Filner so be it but these progressives should be required to back it up.

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill

Every democracy gets the government it deserves. The fault lies not with Filner, but with those whose support, including votes permitted this serial train wreck to continue for decades. There are a lot of people who should be wearing "Mea Culpa" signs, and standing on downtown street corners. They won't of course, but they should.

Allen Hemphill
Allen Hemphill subscribermember

Every democracy gets the government it deserves. The fault lies not with Filner, but with those whose support, including votes permitted this serial train wreck to continue for decades. There are a lot of people who should be wearing "Mea Culpa" signs, and standing on downtown street corners. They won't of course, but they should.

jillmet
jillmet

It would be interesting to know whether there are connections between these allegations and the break-up of his engagement?

Fred Williams
Fred Williams

Amy, my post makes clear the opposite of your claim. Todd Gloria is exactly the kind of politician I will never support. His record in office is directly contracting what he promised as a campaigner, and the way he's slipped right into bed with the tight little band of oligarchs (Republicans and Democrats, a pox on both their houses) shows who he really works for. Todd is the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. Charming, polite, friendly...and utterly useless when it comes to changing the status quo in San Diego. Mayor Filner is a jerk. But look what he's achieved in office. Real change. If you look at history, some of the world's greatest leaders have been jerks, for better or worse. Smarmy faux-friendly placeholders elected to office to serve local oligarchs can never be called leaders. Bob Filner, for all his many faults, is undoubtedly a leader.

Fred Williams
Fred Williams subscriber

Amy, my post makes clear the opposite of your claim. Todd Gloria is exactly the kind of politician I will never support. His record in office is directly contracting what he promised as a campaigner, and the way he's slipped right into bed with the tight little band of oligarchs (Republicans and Democrats, a pox on both their houses) shows who he really works for. Todd is the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. Charming, polite, friendly...and utterly useless when it comes to changing the status quo in San Diego. Mayor Filner is a jerk. But look what he's achieved in office. Real change. If you look at history, some of the world's greatest leaders have been jerks, for better or worse. Smarmy faux-friendly placeholders elected to office to serve local oligarchs can never be called leaders. Bob Filner, for all his many faults, is undoubtedly a leader.

Fred Williams
Fred Williams

Post Press Conference...still no specifics. I still have to wonder if this is "sexual" harrassment, or just harrassment by an overbearing micromanaging steam blowing jerk boss.

shawn fox
shawn fox

Perhaps sexual harassment laws should all be repealed, since as you say the people should know who they are working for and develop thicker skin. Thank you for explaining how people like Bob Filner get elected. The people voting for him could care less whether he is a good or a bad person who treats people like garbage, so long as he advances the progressive agenda. Now the question is, will he be able to advance anything at all.

Fred Williams
Fred Williams subscriber

Post Press Conference...still no specifics. I still have to wonder if this is "sexual" harrassment, or just harrassment by an overbearing micromanaging steam blowing jerk boss.

shawn fox
shawn fox subscriber

Perhaps sexual harassment laws should all be repealed, since as you say the people should know who they are working for and develop thicker skin. Thank you for explaining how people like Bob Filner get elected. The people voting for him could care less whether he is a good or a bad person who treats people like garbage, so long as he advances the progressive agenda. Now the question is, will he be able to advance anything at all.