At about 3 p.m. Thursday, I was getting ready to talk to NBC via the remote camera in our office. I was handed a paper copy of the mayor’s apology and read it quickly.
Something bothered me about it but I didn’t have time to dwell. On TV, I talked about how we’ll have to see if this strange apology reframes the discussion. Would Donna Frye and Marco Gonzalez think it sufficed? Would they retract their allegations?
That seemed unlikely. They believe he is a danger to women and should not be allowed to manage them in a workplace. Pretty serious. It’s not a conclusion you easily walk back.
But something remained unsettling for me about the statement and I talked to a few people trying to see if I could understand it.
By the evening I’d figured it out. It was in this passage:
As someone who has spent a lifetime fighting for equality for all people, I am embarrassed to admit that I have failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me, and that at times I have intimidated them.
Read that again: “I have failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me …”
What does that mean?
Let’s give it a try: Fully respecting women might mean what managers learn through any basic sexual harassment training. You treat men and women as equals, and provide equal opportunities to them. You limit flattery and don’t come on to them. You don’t touch them or try to leverage your power or influence to persuade them to perform a sexual act.
We don’t know exactly what Filner’s accused of but he says he didn’t fully respect women. So which ones of those principles was he failing to fully uphold?
Or was it just a part-time thing? Like, he respects women fully but only 80 percent of the time. The rest of the time, he doesn’t respect them at all?
The statement Filner issued only raises more questions than it answers and that’s probably why he refused to take questions.
Who responds to vague but harsh sexual harassment allegations with “I apologize. I have failed to fully respect women?” And who takes that as a satisfying explanation?
It turns out one person who did take this as a satisfying explanation was City Councilwoman Marti Emerald. She said in a statement: “I commend Mayor Filner for the courage to admit he has made mistakes and for his commitment to change his behavior.”
Courage? Really? What part of this is courageous?
He said he was embarrassed about his behavior and then he implied, in a sneaky type of denial, that what he did “would have been tolerated in the past.” Again, what the heck does that mean? Humans have tolerated some pretty sick things in the past.
He sends this to media in a DVD. Doesn’t take questions. Says he’ll fix himself by going to sexual harassment training “and consulting professionals.”
If sexual harassment training fixes what’s wrong with him, what’s that mean about what’s wrong with him?
A closer reading of the mayor’s statement reveals that it’s a poor attempt to simultaneously admit guilt about something reprehensible while minimizing how big of a deal this whole thing is anyway.
Emerald’s colleagues on the City Council weren’t much better. David Alvarez and Myrtle Cole condemned sexual harassment and told the mayor to fix it or resign.
Fix it? This 70-year-old man admits that, up until Wednesday, he did not fully respect the women who worked for and with him. This is something you can fix in what, a couple weeks? Do we need to appoint a monitor to watch him?
And why will he change now? The Democratic Party’s former leader confirmed a claim by a former state assemblywoman that she warned the party about Filner’s behavior toward women. A group of Democratic leaders met with him and he assured them he would change.
He admits he did not. Don’t worry, he told us. Now it is really over. As of Thursday, he won’t ever do it again.
Does that satisfy you?
Remember what he’s asking us to do. He’s saying: Yes, what these guys have accused me of has some merit. I need help and sexual harassment training is going to fix me. But please continue to let me oversee several thousand city employees.
That’s not going to be easy to just sign off on.