Amid Recall Push, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner Negotiates Next Steps

Residents and officials eye ways to oust the mayor who has turned the city into a punch line

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Bill Wechter / Getty Images

Mayor Bob Filner, at a press conference in San Diego on July 26, 2013, announces his intention to seek professional help following sexual-harassment allegations.

More than a month after being accused of sexual harassment and days after leaving treatment meant to address his alleged misconduct, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner still won’t go. But that may be changing soon.

Since early July, 16 women have accused the first-term Democrat of inappropriate behavior. The first was his former communications director, who filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against him and the city through prominent women’s-rights attorney Gloria Allred. Then came a school psychologist, a Navy rear admiral and a great-grandmother. The sheriff created a hotline to field allegations, while a steady stream of critics, from local politicians to Nancy Pelosi, called on him to resign. The Democratic National Committee joined the chorus Tuesday when it revealed plans to vote on a resolution asking the former Congressman to step down.

(MORE: The Mayor Who Won’t Let Go)

So far, the mayor has been firm in resisting those calls. After citizens of San Diego declared their intention to circulate a recall petition, he responded without a hint of capitulation. “As your mayor,” he wrote in a statement released by his lawyers, “I am committed to moving San Diego forward!” Filner might change his tune if his lawyers, who have been in closed-door mediation sessions with Allred and city officials, broker a deal that makes stepping down look like the most appealing option.

“Filner is a tough, shrewd bargainer,” says Steve Erie, a political-science professor at the University of California, San Diego. “And he has the one thing everybody wants.” Erie believes that the mayor might be willing to leave his office if the city indemnifies him against charges of sexual misconduct.

Filner’s exit would lift a humiliating cloud that has been hovering over the usually sunny coastal city since the allegations surfaced. After seeing the mayor lampooned on late-night shows and in spoof music videos, many residents have had their fill of the spotlight. “People are definitely frustrated,” says Katie Keach, an aide to city-council president Todd Gloria, an official involved in the mediation talks who has called for Filner to step down. “They want it to go away.” Erie describes the mood in the nation’s eighth largest city with starker terms: “There is a lynch-mob mentality in this town.”

(MORE: What the San Diego Mayor Will Do at Sex-Harassment Rehab)

A resignation would be a far simpler and quicker way to resolve things than a recall election. An official recall effort began with a rally on Sunday, and organizers have until Sept. 26 to gather nearly 102,000 signatures if they want to put the issue on the ballot anytime soon. Some 800 volunteers are circulating petitions, but the tight time frame creates a high bar — the state, by contrast, gives recall petitioners 160 days. A bigger problem may be a detail in the municipal code that makes recall elections open to legal challenges. Though the city council is hurrying to amend the code, the recall process could get messy and would certainly take months to move forward.

There is a possible third avenue, buried in another corner of the city code, which allows for city officials to be removed if they have misused city funds. The San Diego city attorney will soon be presenting related evidence to the city council; media reports have circulated allegations that Filner used a city-issued credit card to buy himself expensive meals and a blender. Land-use deals Filner hatched are also being put under the microscope. The council will likely vote next week on whether to go forward with this tack, which could also get caught up in judicial appeals and red tape.

Filner has admitted to wrongdoing, but his biggest act of penance thus far was taking a hiatus for intensive behavioral rehab. He was due to return to work on Aug. 19 but has been in mediation the past two days. When he emerges, the city will find out if he’s had a change of heart.

MORE: San Diego Mayor Bob Filner Digs In as Sex-Harassment Troubles Mount

9 comments
SarahConfran
SarahConfran

How about someone file a complaint with the police department? if he is in jail he can't be a mayor. There is no doubt in my mind he has probably raped or at least sexually assaulted at least one woman. 

pattymooney
pattymooney

I just can't help but wonder how a Communications Director (Ms. McCormack) failed to communicate her alleged displeasure at the Mayor's alleged behavior right when it occurred.  That's Communication 101.

KatherineLopez
KatherineLopez

The only punch line here is Time's reporting of this story.  The pro recall people are not only well organized, shadily funded, and well known enemies of the mayor, they are also in total disarray with the initial leader of their group, Pallamarry, being pushed aside in favor of Rachel Laing, the woman who's butt the mayor kicked in her push to privatize Balboa Park.  They've held two rallies, one yielded about 30 participants, the other 200, according to Reuters, hardly overwhelming considering all the time and effort put into organizing it, in a city of 2.5M, and probably a quarter of those were people being paid to be there in one form or another.  The pro Filner people (yes, we exist much to your displeasure) on the other hand threw a rally together in less than twenty four hours on a Monday workday, and got 200 people, community leaders and activists and regular citizens, to show up.  Ya know, the people who read your mag ought to expect better from you than this.  Do some in depth investigation, like the alt press in San Diego is doing.  Follow the money.

se123
se123

"indemnifies him"?  That should not be an option, we'll get the petition signed.  Kick his but out and be done with it.  Everyone knows he's a dirt bag

MrObvious
MrObvious like.author.displayName 1 Like

Just get out Filner. No one wants you and you cannot effectively administrate with so much distractions. 

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Katy. You should be getting more heavy topics and print time here. As for Filner, notice the uproar for him to leave, and that includes many D's. This parallels outrage against Weiner. When D's go bad, they're pressured to clean up their act or get out. When way too many R's misbehave, they get re-elected (Sanford, Vitter). And of course, ideologue-crazy Tea's (can call them bat**** crazy instead but will be polite to prove the point) wind up in power, pushing out the old corporate-friendly structure (Boehner, the old-school R's of Dole and Ford). Alas, the D's are still driven by the too-biz-friendly center from Clinton days ...look at Cory Booker, who is friends with Christie, picked over other candidates for senate seat... though Liz Warren (and Sherrod Brown, etc.) may offer hope to bring populism and real liberal ideas (there, that word's said) back to D platforms.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva like.author.displayName 1 Like

(followup, sort of) ...Katy, are YOU in San diego to cover this? They are virtually a weather paradise. On a highly tangential note politically but relevant for San Diego, TripAdvisor ranked them as #1 pizza city. Maybe you can get approved by Scherer and the other High Sheriffs to verify this for a followup TIME article. Getting paid to eat pizza is a journalist's paradise, yes?

KatherineLopez
KatherineLopez

@deconstructiva Oh maybe that's what she was doing, eating pizza instead of actually talking to people and doing some basic research.  My God, how the mighty have fallen.  Time Magazine doing TMZ stories, lol.  Now that's a punch line.