Mayor Bob Filner didn’t expect his first months in office to be so turbulent. He might have been the only one.

“I would have hoped for a more tranquil first 100 days, frankly,” Filner said at a gathering with reporters last week.

The former 10-term congressman has a reputation for confrontation and we predicted he’d bring that street-fighting political mentality to the mayor’s office before he was sworn in.

As the city’s second strong mayor, Filner has stretched the muscles of his office more overtly than his predecessor and he’s created plenty of tension along the way.

The mayor says that’s evidence that he’s challenging the status quo and the way city operations were conducted under former Mayor Jerry Sanders.

Here’s a look at the mayor’s biggest battles since he was sworn into office in December:

Taking on Tourism Marketing Dollars

Image courtesy of City TV
Mayor Bob Filner and a San Diego Tourism Authority executive argue during a March 26 City Council meeting.

Filner’s refusal to sign off on a deal to release tourism marketing dollars has been waged in the press, at City Council meetings and even in Superior Court.

The mayor has repeatedly panned an agreement approved by the council last year. A judge ultimately agreed Filner didn’t have to sign the original pact.

The Tourism Marketing District battle hit its peak last week when City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and the council counterpunched with a resolution that aimed to force the mayor to sign. Dozens of local tourism workers showed up to rally for the resolution despite the mayor’s efforts to negotiate a new deal.

Filner accused the council and the city attorney of being “bought off” by hoteliers and TMD board members.

Perhaps the most awkward moment of the meeting came when Filner criticized Tourism Authority chief Joe Terzi’s salary. The crowd booed, hissed and yelled when Filner claimed Terzi makes more than $500,000. (Terzi’s current annual compensation is $435,000, according to U-T San Diego.) That’s when Tourism Authority Human Resources Director Althea Salas got up to correct the mayor. As the two argued, Gloria asked Filner to take a seat.

The council approved the resolution but two days later, Filner and hoteliers worked out a deal in principle. The council has yet to approve it.

Giving Goldsmith Grief

Photo by Lisa Halverstadt
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith steps away from the podium to allow Mayor Bob Filner to speak at an explosive Feb. 20 press conference at the city attorney’s office.

Filner’s tussles with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith took a very public turn in February when the mayor crashed Goldsmith’s last-minute press conference on the mayor’s proposal for a new tourism marketing deal.

Filner showed up to criticize Goldsmith for updating the media before the mayor and the council.

The confrontation led to a few uncomfortable moments.

Filner called out the city attorney’s executive assistant when he noticed her shaking her head in the back of the room, demanding to know if she was an attorney. Filner and Goldsmith also took turns at the podium, each time chiding the previous speaker’s remarks.

The battle resurfaced again last week when Filner accused Goldsmith and council members of being unable to ethically vote or provide advice on the tourism marketing deal due to campaign donations from hoteliers and TMD board members.

“The city attorney, who did not have an opponent, got tens of thousands of dollars from these same people who he’s supposedly negotiating with,” Filner told KUSI last week.

City News Service and iNewsource found hoteliers’ donations to Goldsmith and six council members were far less than “tens of thousands of dollars.”

Goldsmith fired back with a press release blasting the mayor’s comments:

“In a KUSI interview yesterday morning, Mayor Bob Filner crossed the line, alleging that members of the City Council and I had been “bought off” by hoteliers in the TMD matter. This is a very serious allegation of criminal conduct, and it is baseless and defamatory.”

The statement ended with a warning: Goldsmith said he’d “have more to say about (the need for more civilized discussion) in the future.”

The SANDAG Showdown

File photos by Sam Hodgson
Mayor Bob Filner (left) and Council President Todd Gloria.

Dueling selections for appointments to the county’s regional planning agency, the San Diego Association of Governments, led to one of Filner’s first public fights as mayor.

Just who he battled surprised some San Diegans: Filner’s first nemesis was Gloria, a fellow Democrat who serves as council president.

The two argued at an afternoon council meeting over whether the mayor had verbally signed off on Gloria’s suggested appointments. As the tense exchanges continued, one council staffer created a Twitter hashtag, #SANDAGcliff.

Filner demanded that Gloria meet with him immediately to hash out a deal.

That led to this exchange:

“Mr. Mayor, I am sorry, I am running the council meeting at this time,” Gloria said.

Filner’s reply? “Give it to someone else to run, or meet another day. I am telling you this is not a staff issue.”

The two later made amends. At least temporarily.

Politicking Over Port Appointments

File photo by Sam Hodgson
Unified Port of San Diego

Filner was largely silent in the run-up to the council’s Jan. 7 vote to select two new commissioners for the Unified Port of San Diego.

In fact, hours ahead of the vote, the mayor said the appointments were a “purely council decision.”

“Is that coming up today? Is that on the agenda?” the mayor asked Liam Dillon.

Then Goldsmith clarified that Filner had veto power over the appointments.

By mid-January, Filner publicly announced he’d veto the council’s port commission selections, arguing the council should wait until a new District 4 council member is selected and establish its appointment priorities for the port before picking new commissioners.

Filner’s veto resulted in a U-T editorial that criticized Filner for his inability to “play nice.”

Gloria and San Diego’s conservative council members publicly panned Filner’s veto.

Councilman Scott Sherman accused the mayor of “Washington-style politics.”

But this battle largely played out on paper. Filner didn’t even show up when the council unsuccessfully attempted to override his first mayoral veto. Still, he won the fight. He presented his vision for the port at a March 6 council committee meeting.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at or 619.325.0528.

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Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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