San Diegans have seen over the past year that mayoral candidate Bob Filner is a performer.

Sometimes it’s comedic. Sometimes it’s cringe-worthy. Sometimes the show, as much as the substance, tells you a lot about him. When Filner’s confrontational take on issues and people resonates, he can seem like the only honest person in the room. When it doesn’t, he can come off as cranky or out-of-touch.

We’re working on a profile of Filner, a Democratic congressman, that digs deep into his political persona. But for now we’ll give you five top Filner moments on the campaign trail.

Marriage Stinks

If you’re in politics for three decades, as Filner has been, you’ll have made some votes that you regret. So it goes with Filner and his 1996 vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

Filner has a long history supporting LGBT issues and now backs marriage equality. In a March interview, LGBT Weekly pressed Filner on why he voted for the bill.

Filner’s answer? His own marriages worked out so poorly that he didn’t think the gay community needed the privilege:

[A]s a heterosexual person who’s been married, you can take quite a cynical view of marriage and wonder why would you want to — the last one took all my money; all my property. I mean if it doesn’t work out; then you’ve got to get divorced. As someone who’s been divorced a couple of times — and I don’t mean to make light of it — but I took it as … like why would you want this? I didn’t (consider) it deeply enough.

Filner’s twice divorced and recently got engaged again. But his response, while blunt, could come off as unfeeling to a longstanding big issue to a major interest group.

Blame the Moderator

Near the start of when Filner started speaking.

He broke with his colleagues’ usual politeness to rip the Veterans Benefits Administration for a growing backlog of disability claims and veterans groups for their relative silence on the matter:

Accusing the groups of “playing” the V.A.’s games by allowing themselves to be easily wooed into submission by promises of access to senior officials, Mr. Filner urged the groups to support “radical” change and “blow up” or “break” what he called “this stupid system.”

“What are you afraid of?” he taunted more than once from the depths of his chair, which bounced back and forth with each of his rhetorical lunges.

Here was a great example of Filner’s feistiness working to his advantage. No one thinks veterans benefits should be delayed, but Filner was the only one to get mad as hell about it. As I noted at the time, it’s also a great political issue for him to push in vet-heavy San Diego. Filner went on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show to talk about it:

Balboa Park

Filner didn’t just oppose philanthropist Irwin Jacobs’ $45 million plan to refashion Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama. He headlined a rally before the vote and then launched into a six-minute speech during the City Council hearing.

Some notable moments:

• Trying and failing multiple times to pronounce the word “unmitigable.”

• Wondering aloud what would happen to the project if “Irwin dies,” waiting a beat and then adding, “Heaven forbid.”

• Ending his speech by calling up an impersonator of park maven Kate Sessions to criticize the plan.

More than any other moment during the campaign, this one showed how Filner can approach an issue of great civic weight as an activist rather than a diplomat.

The Port

Filner has made expanding the Unified Port of San Diego central to his jobs plan. Yet during the spring, he flubbed basic facts about its operations. In a subsequent, a lengthy television interview he continued to deny that he got the facts wrong. He also pulled out his ringing cell phone during the middle of the interview.

The video teaches us one of three things about Filner’s approach to the race at least as of the spring:

• He doesn’t think basic facts are important when making a larger argument.

• His handlers aren’t nailing down basic facts about his platform.

• He doesn’t listen to those handlers.

Any of the three would fuel fears that he isn’t taking the campaign or the Mayor’s Office seriously.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

Like VOSD on Facebook.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.