Now that the deal for his exit is set, assuming Bob Filner doesn’t pull some stunt at the last second, the finger-pointing can start. Just who is responsible for Mayor Filner’s election? That’s an easy one: It’s Carl DeMaio, who made two monumental blunders.
First, DeMaio had already enraged every union leader by continually pointing out how public employee unions had substantially damaged San Diego’s finances with the fabulous package they enjoyed at taxpayer expense. How many times did he drum home the unanswerable question, “Why should public employees have a much better deal than those in the private sector?” Union leaders fumed as DeMaio constantly decried the ridiculously early retirement ages, the bloated pensions, job security and generous health care benefits while private sector employees had watched their situations deteriorate. And, when he followed it up by co-sponsoring an initiative to try to correct the situation, unions throughout the state and even nationally became obsessed with defeating DeMaio.
Mistake No. 2 was in thinking Filner was easily beatable. DeMaio had done his homework and knew that Filner was an egomaniacal bully, prone to melt down at unpredictable times, and counted on him to do this during the campaign. I remember attending one of DeMaio’s fundraisers and hearing him say he was working to make sure Filner was his opponent in the runoff. I thought at the time DeMaio should be careful what he wished for, given our Democratic registration plurality and Filner’s vaunted “liberal” credentials: working in favor of the downtrodden, the disabled, veterans, minorities, etc. And DeMaio never really made an issue of the fact that Filner, throughout his long career, had never actually run anything but his mouth, so he was unprepared to delegate and ended up trying to micromanage everything upon taking office.
Sure enough, although Filner made some gaffes during the campaign and DeMaio showed a pretty cool demeanor in their debates, the coalition of union “feet on the ground” and liberals constantly reminded of Filner’s “freedom riding” more than 50 years ago got out the vote and overcame his track record as a back-bench 10-term congressman not popular among his peers. The displays of pique Filner had shown during his long tenure in Washington were overlooked, and the misgivings of many of his Democratic colleagues about his behavior toward women went unstated until long after he was elected. So, his positive-sounding “community” agenda appealed to the imagination of sufficient voters to elect him.
So DeMaio is the villain in this saga, no doubt to the delight of his many detractors. But I think that Filner’s former employee, the one now suing him, summed it up pretty well when she noted that, without character, the agenda is irrelevant.