The National Women Veterans Association of America — which lists aid for victims of “military sexual trauma” among its services — has made San Diego Mayor Bob Filner the keynote speaker for its benefit in late August.
Filner had originally been invited to attend the benefit to receive an award from the group. But amid escalating allegations of sexual harassment and threatened lawsuits that have caused several Filner supporters and colleagues to demand his resignation, the group stripped him of thelong-planned lifetime leadership award for helping women vets, reports KGTV in San Diego.
“He is now the keynote speaker on these injustices,” according to the group. “We do not tolerate sexual discrimination at any level within our society.”
Fillner, 70, a 10-term Democratic congressman before winning the mayor’s race last November, has refused to resign, although he admits his conduct has been “inappropriate and wrong.” In a July 11 statement, he also said: “I have failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me, and that at times I have intimidated them.” He said he is seeking professional treatment.
The NVWAA, which has scheduled a July 20 news conference, did not return several calls seeking comment on what might be gained by having such a controversial figure address military women who may have been raped, assaulted or otherwise abused in the military.
“We need the awareness piece, then have more dialogue to fix this,” group President Tara Jones told KGTV.
For awareness, she might want to turn to the group’s own Facebook page, where reactions to news of Filner’s upcoming speech range from anger to disbelief among women, men, veterans and civilians.
“You’re not REALLY having Bob Filner as a keynote speaker at an NWVAA, are you? Tell me that’s a report from The Onion, or something, please! If your organization really does have the gall to have Filner on stage, make sure you stay at least three feet away from “Uncle Touchy”……good lord,” read one post.
“As a 20 year retired Navy SEAL, I am wondering why it is taking you so long to make a statement regarding the Mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner’s sexual harassment and assault issues. If you want to have any credibility at all, you will immediately issue a statement on where your organization stands on this issue. Your silence is deafening.”
“While I’m not a veteran, I am the mother of three grown daughters and am also a strong believer in listening to victims of any sort of abuse. PLEASE do not give this man a pulpit. There is too much smoke here and this man has proven himself over and over again to be a narcissistic loose cannon.”
“ As a woman veteran the fact that you are still letting a man that has these charges against him stand and speak about sexual assault and harassment speaks volumes as to the character of this organization. While you might want to help people, you are hurting yourself by having this man stand for you. You really should reconsider.”
No formal charges or complaints have been brought against Filner. But in recent weeks, several high-profile political figures, not to mention his ex-fiancee, have come forward with stories of his actions in the presence of women, including a pair of maneuvers known as the “Filner Dance” and the “Filner Headlock.”
Former San Diego City council woman Donna Frye held a news conference to denounce him as “tragically unsafe for any woman to approach,” citing such acts as putting his hand under a supporter’s bra and his tongue down her throat. She demanded he resign.
Rep. Susan Davis, who represents the San Diego area in Congress, also urged him to quit, citing his conduct, which “if not illegal, is reprehensible:”
Even Filner’s ex-fiancee, Bronwyn Ingram, whom he dubbed “The First Lady of San Diego,” says she broke their engagement after he sent sexually explicit texts to other women in her presence and had become increasingly abusive to her.
The debate over whether Filner will actually give that speech — his chief of staff did not respond to an e-mail requesting confirmation — or if he should remain as mayor could be moot by next month, notes The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan. The consensus among California political insiders is that he simply cannot survive the growing scandal.
That could inspire a move known as the Filner Exit.
Annie Groer is a former Washington Post and PoliticsDaily.com reporter and columnist whose work has also appeared in the New York Times, Town & Country and More.