San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s frank apology video

(Gregory Bull, File/Associated Press)
(Gregory Bull, File/Associated Press)

In what can only be described as an unusually frank apology from a public official, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner released a video Thursday saying he was "seeking help" in response to allegations of sexual harassment. In the video, he appears to reject calls by former supporters to resign, instead asking San Diegans to "give me an opportunity to prove I am capable of change."

Filner, who is also facing questions about the cost of a trip to Paris, donations to his campaign from a land developer and a feud with the Republican city attorney, does not directly admit to sexual harassment in the video. However, he says "I have diminished the office to which you elected me" and "I'm clearly doing something wrong." He agrees "I must and will change my behavior" and describes "behavior that would have been tolerated in the past" as "inappropriate and wrong."

He goes on to say that "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." The city's residents "have every right to be disappointed in me."

The San Diego mayor, who is in his first year in office, lists an array of changes he intends to make, but does not say he'll be resigning. He says "I need help" and admits he's begun working with professionals and will undergo sexual harassment training. He plans to personally apologize to people for his behavior and will announce "fundamental changes within the mayor's office designed to promote a new spirit of cooperation, respect and effectiveness."

The allegations against Filner are not specific—there are few details, and the victims have not come forward—so it's hard to know exactly how to feel about his statement. But the demands of running one of the nation's largest cities does not usually leave a whole lot of room for working on changing personal behavior that involves practicing basic levels of respect. In addition, accusations of this nature (especially on top of the other controversies Filner is facing) could very well end up being so distracting that they get in the way of his ability to do the job.

If any sense develops that Filner is clinging to his position at the expense of effective government, it could undermine confidence in an administration that appears to have already tested voters' trust. Voters are a forgiving sort, yes. But forgiveness usually arrives after the hard work of fixing one's personal behavior is done.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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Jena McGregor · July 12, 2013