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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.