Make no mistake. Lee Burdick’s new book is going to make San Diego’s political class light its hair on fire.
Burdick, the ex-chief of staff to disgraced former Mayor Bob Filner, has written a detailed behind-the-scenes account of Filner’s nine months in office in which no one comes out particularly well. Voice of San Diego received an advance copy of the book, which is due out Feb. 8.
Filner, of course, is the chief villain. The book is filled with moment after jaw-dropping moment of this villainy from the abominable way he treated his staff, to the abhorrent and criminal way he treated women to the extreme delusions of grandeur and self-aggrandizement. Burdick’s tale is worse than your wildest imagination of how Filner behaved – which is hard to believe.
One of the many anecdotes that made me audibly gasp: The weekend before Filner was scheduled to return to the city from his two-week sexual harassment rehab trip, the mayor and key staff members met in a downtown condo to discuss their plans. That time overlapped with the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and Filner’s civil rights history gave him an idea for what he might say, Burdick writes:
Filner threw out the idea that he characterize his time away as “going to the mountaintop.” I almost groaned my objection that conflating his situation with King’s vision of a better future was morally untenable.
Besides Filner, Burdick doesn’t spare anyone, particularly City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, whom she excoriates for his behavior in trying to thwart Filner’s policy goals and then force him out of office. Sheriff Bill Gore and high-profile attorney Gloria Allred, among others, also come under lots of criticism:
The most painful irony: Filner needed to be removed from office for his despicable offenses against women and his complete lack of professionalism appropriate to his role as mayor, but Filner’s most voracious opponents—the city attorney, certain councilmembers, Gloria Allred, the sheriff and others—with all of their righteous intentions to “protect” women from Filner, were trampling over innocent bystanders to bring him down.
As far as Burdick’s own role in the debacle, she admits that at first she didn’t believe one of Filner’s most memorable accusers, city volunteer and grandmother Peggy Shannon, because Shannon was overweight and didn’t fit the profile of the women Filner liked to hit on. Burdick realized she was wrong when Filner essentially admitted the conduct a day later, she wrote.
Burdick’s book is filled with insider-only details, well-written and the most comprehensive examination of the Filner era that’s out there. But it’s tough to see it as the final word.
Burdick wrote a commentary for us lamenting her inability to find a job after Filner’s resignation. Immediately, Filner’s ex-fiancee and a former Union-Tribune reporter who covered Filner jumped all over her characterizations.
In a Q-and-A with the Union-Tribune as the scandal raged, Burdick was asked if Filner ever was inappropriate toward her. She replied that she wouldn’t be working for him if he hadn’t treated her with “anything less than the greatest respect.” But in the book, she described how Filner tried to get her to replicate the famous “Unconditional Surrender” photo of a sailor dipping a nurse and kissing her on V-J Day at the end of World War II when the giant statue of the scene along San Diego’s bay front came up in conversation. He even tried to dip her, Burdick wrote, before the scene ended in fumbling awkwardness.
In that U-T Q-and-A, Burdick also was asked if she felt she’s enabling a “monster” – a word even Filner had used by that point to describe himself.
“I would never characterize the mayor as a monster and anybody who does is engaging in the worst form of hyperbole,” Burdick replied.
Two and a half years later, Burdick has changed her mind. The title of her book: “Bob Filner’s Monster.”