For a Filner Friend, Old and New Ties Bind

For a Filner Friend, Old and New Ties Bind

File photo by Sam Hodgson

George McKinney

On Sunday, Bishop George McKinney had two prominent guests for his Sunday service at St. Stephens Cathedral in southeastern San Diego.

In the front row was Mayor Bob Filner, reeling from weeks of scandal and national media frenzy. Kitty corner from him was Council President Todd Gloria, also taking in the St. Stephens experience.

McKinney told me that Filner and Gloria came separately, without any fanfare. Neither spoke to the flock from the pulpit. Afterward, McKinney met with Filner.

He would only tell me that Filner was humble.

“He is sincere about his apology and his repentance,” McKinney said.

In its own compassionate way, even that statement is an indictment. We still don’t know what Filner thinks he should apologize for or what Filner thinks he did that he even said was “inexcusable.” As Gail Collins at the New York Times put it, we’ve been getting both claims that he is innocent of what’s alleged and that he’ll never do what’s alleged … again.

Which is it? Either he didn’t do it, or he’s done doing it.

Filner’s remaining supporters have not settled on any one of their three main arguments: 1) that he deserves to be presumed innocent and that what’s happening is a frenzy or, worse, a vast conspiracy 2) that he did something but it wasn’t that bad or 3) that he did something that may have been bad but he can redeem himself.

I wanted to talk to McKinney because he provides a window into why some residents, particularly in southeastern San Diego communities, are standing up for the mayor as he retreats from public view. McKinney’s perspective helps explain why Councilwomen Marti Emerald and Myrtle Cole held out so long before ultimately insisting the mayor should resign. It helps explain why those who rallied for Filner outside of City Hall Monday sang “We Shall Overcome” as they walked to the podium.

McKinney is one of Filner’s supporters who is not selling a conspiracy theory or denial. He’s arguing for redemption.

“In no way, form or fashion do we support behavior that is demeaning, ungodly or disrespectful. But we understand that we are all creatures with moral and spiritual failings and we always believe there is a possibility for forgiveness and redemption,” McKinney said.

McKinney’s support for Filner is as much about deep, earned historic loyalty as it is about present-day interests. Across the street from McKinney’s office, a vacant city-owned lot remains undeveloped. McKinney has tried for years to develop the land, called Valencia Park. He’s been awarded the project several times.

Most recently, he lost his development partner, the group with the expertise to pull his vision off. The city’s redevelopment agency, Civic San Diego, had to decide whether to send out a request for bids on the project again or try to help McKinney get back on track.

It’s unclear if anyone else would want the gig.

“It’s not like this site is in UTC. It’s off the beaten trail and doesn’t have freeway visibility. It’s not a site developers will beat down the door to get to,” said Jeff Graham, president of Civic San Diego.

Filner told Graham and his team to stick with McKinney. It’s no small decision. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) loaned the city’s redevelopment team $2.5 million to buy that land many years ago.

That loan came with an agreement that the city would create 96 jobs on the property. HUD has so far been patient, but last week told the city that if progress didn’t come soon, it will ask for its money back.

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It’s one of the many land use deals with which Filner is directly involved that would be left uncertain if he departs.

“He’s been courageous and stuck his neck out on our behalf and we don’t want to discount that,” McKinney said of Filner.

The men have a long history. McKinney started our conversation with a description of the respect he has for Filner and his family’s civil rights advocacy.

“He put his life on the line and went to prison as a Freedom Rider. And I don’t take that lightly. His father was one of the earliest supporters of the civil rights movement,” McKinney said.

He said Filner, as a member of the school board decades ago, stood with McKinney in support of a private school he and other religious leaders wanted to build. McKinney remains moved, he said, that a school district leader would support a private parochial school and acknowledge education services in southeastern San Diego were below standard.

The school, St. Stephens Christian School, was closed after 25 years of operation.

And that probably best captures why support for Filner remains strong in some areas of town: He was the one who, quite simply, showed up. He worked for leaders like McKinney in South Bay, Barrio Logan and southeastern San Diego. Unprecedented voting in those areas buoyed Filner to a win.

And some residents there are taking an attack on Filner as an attack on them.

But McKinney is not alone in pushing a redemption message.

This was the subject line activist Enrique Morones sent for a rally Monday in support of the mayor: “Time to heal, forgive and get back to moving city forward, with Mayor Bob Filner.”

What does it take to forgive? McKinney said he recognized the gravity of the situation the mayor faces.

But he said Filner is “open to counsel.”

“Personally he has demonstrated to me a sense of responsibility,” McKinney said.

The redemption argument is probably Filner’s best. But in the Christian tradition McKinney articulated, it often first involves confession. It’s not clear if McKinney got one of those.

It’s hard to imagine redemption coming quick enough to save Filner’s job.

Gloria and Filner did not talk at McKinney’s church Sunday. But they reportedly met Monday and Tuesday in mediation sessions with Councilman Kevin Faulconer, city attorneys and Gloria Allred, the attorney suing the city and Filner on behalf of his former communications director, Irene McCormack.

Allred has demanded Filner’s resignation and it may be on the table as they negotiate.

If he resigns, there are some very old and very new reasons people like McKinney will feel a deep loss.

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Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis

I'm Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

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23 comments
Arizona Bread
Arizona Bread

A recall election is important because it confirms the system works and it legitimizes the outcome. A resignation leaves us with the precedent that any mayor can be hounded out of office because their behavior is labeled offensive by the most the powerful or vociferous people. All voters have the right to choose, not just those who are better connected, have deeper pockets, own newspapers, believe their morals and values trump all others, or know how to grandstand. I don’t think Filner should resign. I do think a decision about his tenure should be brought before voters. Furthermore, speaking solely as an anonymous nobody, I’m not convinced Filner is dead yet. There do appear to be avenues available for, as you put it, redemption. These exist in the trade-off many voters are probably willing to make between the bad behavior of the man and the good deeds of his policies. Filner may be able to leverage this desire to gain political forgiveness for his personal trespasses. This is especially true if he can demonstrably improve his behavior. Remember, a majority of voters want his policies, and I would argue, for all its offensiveness, sexual harassment is still an accepted part of life, widely practiced without repercussions (particularly in military San Diego), and each accusation in Filner's case comes with its own set of he said/she said questions. Nonetheless, Filner needs to act now to get on the road to redemption by publicly showing he is moving towards a new future for himself and the city. The time to hide in negotiation or therapy is over, unless he is actively seeking a way out.

Arizona Bread
Arizona Bread subscriber

A recall election is important because it confirms the system works and it legitimizes the outcome. A resignation leaves us with the precedent that any mayor can be hounded out of office because their behavior is labeled offensive by the most the powerful or vociferous people. All voters have the right to choose, not just those who are better connected, have deeper pockets, own newspapers, believe their morals and values trump all others, or know how to grandstand. I don’t think Filner should resign. I do think a decision about his tenure should be brought before voters. Furthermore, speaking solely as an anonymous nobody, I’m not convinced Filner is dead yet. There do appear to be avenues available for, as you put it, redemption. These exist in the trade-off many voters are probably willing to make between the bad behavior of the man and the good deeds of his policies. Filner may be able to leverage this desire to gain political forgiveness for his personal trespasses. This is especially true if he can demonstrably improve his behavior. Remember, a majority of voters want his policies, and I would argue, for all its offensiveness, sexual harassment is still an accepted part of life, widely practiced without repercussions (particularly in military San Diego), and each accusation in Filner's case comes with its own set of he said/she said questions. Nonetheless, Filner needs to act now to get on the road to redemption by publicly showing he is moving towards a new future for himself and the city. The time to hide in negotiation or therapy is over, unless he is actively seeking a way out.

Carolyn Chase
Carolyn Chase

I like to think people can learn and change and redeem themselves. But everyone knows it's hard. It requires visible changes to be put into place to support those changes. And first you have to have the insights about the underlying issues. We haven't heard that yet. The fact they're in mediation I think is a good development. But whatever outcome - it might not stop the recall. The thing about that is: it IS a process where Mayor Filner would have the chance to demonstrate what he's learned. That may indeed be the best - if not his only path back to regaining public confidence - because that's what it is - a chance to be redeemed - or cast out. We don't know at this point how he has absorbed how the damage has risen significantly in recent weeks. My sense is that it has reached a level where at least a majority of San Diegans will not accept any deal that is cut that doesn't include his resignation. So the recall is potentially his only path to political redemption. That's both good news and bad news. The good news - it provides the opportunity for redemption - the chance to fight your way back. The bad news: it's a difficult test to pass. Seems to me the path to redemption is never promised to be easy.

Carolyn Chase
Carolyn Chase subscriber

I like to think people can learn and change and redeem themselves. But everyone knows it's hard. It requires visible changes to be put into place to support those changes. And first you have to have the insights about the underlying issues. We haven't heard that yet. The fact they're in mediation I think is a good development. But whatever outcome - it might not stop the recall. The thing about that is: it IS a process where Mayor Filner would have the chance to demonstrate what he's learned. That may indeed be the best - if not his only path back to regaining public confidence - because that's what it is - a chance to be redeemed - or cast out. We don't know at this point how he has absorbed how the damage has risen significantly in recent weeks. My sense is that it has reached a level where at least a majority of San Diegans will not accept any deal that is cut that doesn't include his resignation. So the recall is potentially his only path to political redemption. That's both good news and bad news. The good news - it provides the opportunity for redemption - the chance to fight your way back. The bad news: it's a difficult test to pass. Seems to me the path to redemption is never promised to be easy.

Sharon Gehl
Sharon Gehl

Rather than apologize to someone who has a financial interest in keeping him in office; Bob Filner should apologize to each person whom he has verbally, physically, or financially abused over the years, and to his constituents. Even if the voters of San Diego then accept his apology, it doesn’t mean that they have to take him back.

Sharon Gehl
Sharon Gehl subscribermember

Rather than apologize to someone who has a financial interest in keeping him in office; Bob Filner should apologize to each person whom he has verbally, physically, or financially abused over the years, and to his constituents. Even if the voters of San Diego then accept his apology, it doesn’t mean that they have to take him back.

ommarr2323
ommarr2323

finally a story that has depth, good journalism and originality, thanks Scott

Katherine Lopez
Katherine Lopez

"Which is it? Either he didn’t do it, or he’s done doing it." Sad little man. Either you are this stupid, or you are this manipulative. But then again, you are writing for the rabble, and they won't question your loaded questions and your false choices. I am pleased to see that some people in District 4 still understand what loyalty to a friend means. We in District 8 also stand in support of our Mayor. Our council representatives have let us down, but that is no surprise, after all. I thank our mayor for continuing to stand strong. I hope he knows that we stand strong behind him.

Katherine Lopez
Katherine Lopez subscriber

"Which is it? Either he didn’t do it, or he’s done doing it." Sad little man. Either you are this stupid, or you are this manipulative. But then again, you are writing for the rabble, and they won't question your loaded questions and your false choices. I am pleased to see that some people in District 4 still understand what loyalty to a friend means. We in District 8 also stand in support of our Mayor. Our council representatives have let us down, but that is no surprise, after all. I thank our mayor for continuing to stand strong. I hope he knows that we stand strong behind him.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

Filner was in his tenth term in congress when he ran for mayor. Heroic deeds long ago, e.g., becoming an “ace” in the Vietnam War, do not give you a lifetime “get out of jail” pass, you have to re-earn support periodically. I remember another prominent politician who, when he got into trouble, always showed up at a “black” church. Here’s a hint: Gennifer was her name.....or was it Monica? I took a recall petition to a coffee shop today and filled it in 10 minutes. It’s true, as Filner’s supporters say, that there are only “allegations” at this point, but it looks like the guy has already been convicted in the court of public opinion that helped him coast to election victory only eight months ago. Looks like the voters are being “stupid” again, as always when liberals don’t get their way.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

Filner was in his tenth term in congress when he ran for mayor. Heroic deeds long ago, e.g., becoming an “ace” in the Vietnam War, do not give you a lifetime “get out of jail” pass, you have to re-earn support periodically. I remember another prominent politician who, when he got into trouble, always showed up at a “black” church. Here’s a hint: Gennifer was her name.....or was it Monica? I took a recall petition to a coffee shop today and filled it in 10 minutes. It’s true, as Filner’s supporters say, that there are only “allegations” at this point, but it looks like the guy has already been convicted in the court of public opinion that helped him coast to election victory only eight months ago. Looks like the voters are being “stupid” again, as always when liberals don’t get their way.

David Cohen
David Cohen

The so-called three main arguments imputed to Filner's supporters are not mutually exclusive, and there is no need for me to settle on one. Until investigations and the justice system run their course he should be presumed innocent of any crime. It is likely from the "accusers' " statements that he has done some things they didn't want, that he should not have done, but that are not so bad that, taken alone, they would be seen as warranting removal. And he may have done some things more offensive than that, but those who elected him nay still prefer him as Mayor to the others likely to seek to replace him, none of whom is pure. In retrospect, I can see how a media outlet that enthusiastically added to the piling on would fail to understand the perspective of people who support him,

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

The so-called three main arguments imputed to Filner's supporters are not mutually exclusive, and there is no need for me to settle on one. Until investigations and the justice system run their course he should be presumed innocent of any crime. It is likely from the "accusers' " statements that he has done some things they didn't want, that he should not have done, but that are not so bad that, taken alone, they would be seen as warranting removal. And he may have done some things more offensive than that, but those who elected him nay still prefer him as Mayor to the others likely to seek to replace him, none of whom is pure. In retrospect, I can see how a media outlet that enthusiastically added to the piling on would fail to understand the perspective of people who support him,

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant

Filner can be redeemed personally and professionally, but there should be no expectation for that to happen immediately. He has completely lost the trust of the vast majority of San Diego. He needs to step down and get his act together. Obviously he has had a positive effect on many people, and if he can straighten his life out he very well may have a shot at professional redemption. But his current term as mayor is lost. It's too late. Too much damage has been done. Thank you Scott for highlighting the illogical cluster of ideas that you described as the apologists' main arguments. They are all non-sequitur.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant subscriber

Filner can be redeemed personally and professionally, but there should be no expectation for that to happen immediately. He has completely lost the trust of the vast majority of San Diego. He needs to step down and get his act together. Obviously he has had a positive effect on many people, and if he can straighten his life out he very well may have a shot at professional redemption. But his current term as mayor is lost. It's too late. Too much damage has been done. Thank you Scott for highlighting the illogical cluster of ideas that you described as the apologists' main arguments. They are all non-sequitur.

David Hall
David Hall

Given Filner's long standing ties to Bishop McKinney, your suggestion that his visit is akin to Clinton's visits to a "black" church is racist and offensive. And ignorant of history.

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

Given Filner's long standing ties to Bishop McKinney, your suggestion that his visit is akin to Clinton's visits to a "black" church is racist and offensive. And ignorant of history.

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga

What, in your opinion, would warrant removal? A civil verdict against him? A misdemeanor conviction? A felony conviction? (None of these, by the way, would require his removal under the law.)

David Cohen
David Cohen

I don't engage in argument with people who buy electrons by the barrelful. My comment stands for itself.

Scott Lewis
Scott Lewis

Why are they not so bad as to warrant removal? And what does that mean anyway "warrant removal"? He either stays in, resigns or gets recalled. The first two are his choices. The last is the voters' choice. He has never denied what was alleged. Instead, he's said what he did was "inexcusable" that he did not "fully respect" women (substitute any group of people for "women" and see how that sits) and that there is a monster inside of him. He's also said this was brought about by his own frailties. If those who elected him still prefer him as mayor after hearing that, they can avoid the recall signature gatherers and rally in support of him. If a vote is provoked, they can choose no. But no "removal" is taking place. If all that's been alleged is true or some part of it, and you still want him to be mayor, that's an honest and straight-forward position I can respect. But I'd love to read you elaborate on it.

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga memberauthor

What, in your opinion, would warrant removal? A civil verdict against him? A misdemeanor conviction? A felony conviction? (None of these, by the way, would require his removal under the law.)

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

I don't engage in argument with people who buy electrons by the barrelful. My comment stands for itself.

Scott Lewis
Scott Lewis administrator

Why are they not so bad as to warrant removal? And what does that mean anyway "warrant removal"? He either stays in, resigns or gets recalled. The first two are his choices. The last is the voters' choice. He has never denied what was alleged. Instead, he's said what he did was "inexcusable" that he did not "fully respect" women (substitute any group of people for "women" and see how that sits) and that there is a monster inside of him. He's also said this was brought about by his own frailties. If those who elected him still prefer him as mayor after hearing that, they can avoid the recall signature gatherers and rally in support of him. If a vote is provoked, they can choose no. But no "removal" is taking place. If all that's been alleged is true or some part of it, and you still want him to be mayor, that's an honest and straight-forward position I can respect. But I'd love to read you elaborate on it.