Call them the Filner Seven And Counting, a growing cadre of high-profile women who this week alone have publicly accused San Diego Mayor Bob “I’m a hugger” Filner of making unwanted sexual advances.
Filner, 70, who also spent two decades in Congress, already apologized for “inappropriate” behavior earlier this month when several allegations were made anonymously through intermediaries. He also said he is seeking treatment for what seems to be a chronic inability to stop manhandling women, and explained that his actions may have been misconstrued because he’s a guy who likes to hug–males as well as females.
So far, it’s only women who’ve come forward, or filed lawsuits, and there is no telling how many more will follow.
“Bob Filner gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘hands-on’ government. He is so yucky,” a waitress at a San Diego restaurant told me last week. She asked for anonymity along with my order lest she put her job at risk.
But she is hardly alone in wishing the mayor of “America’s Finest City” would leave office. “Poll: Nearly 70% say Mayor Should Resign,” proclaimed a headline in the July 25 U-T San Diego newspaper. Filner clearly does not agree.
But as the scandal continues to build, one question keeps niggling: If the twice-divorced Democrat has been hitting on women—or “slobbering” in the words of one victim–for nearly a quarter century, why did none go public about his alleged gross misconduct until his fiancé, Bronwyn Ingram, broke their engagement a few weeks back after watching him sext other women in her presence?
Fear, said San Diego political consultant Laura Fink, who was Filner’s deputy congressional campaign manager back in 2005. She recently told KPBS that after he patted her “posterior” in front of several dismayed guests at a fundraising dinner, she sent him a scorching e-mail saying she’d been humiliated, and demanding an apology.
But she said she kept quiet for eight years because she “was trying to build a career in the political field … and Bob Filner has a reputation for swift retribution and for holding grudges.”
A different but no less depressing explanation for the Filner cone of silence comes from a former Washington lobbyist who worked on women’s issues before joining a think tank. “It was common knowledge on Capitol Hill that this guy was a pig, but as politics got more fractious and partisan, we needed his vote. He was pro-choice, pro-labor, pro-veterans and pro-Israel. That’s why no one outed him.”
On July 25, a quartet of women pursued by Filner– a hospitality and tourism leader, a retired Navy rear-admiral, a dean at San Diego State University and the head of the city’s Port Tenants Association–told KPBS that he groped, cornered or kissed them against their will. All called for his resignation just eight months after his election as mayor.
Several current and former local officials and allies have also demanded that he quit. But like disgraced ex-Rep. Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner, who kept sexting women even after quitting Congress and who will not drop out of his race for New York City mayor, Filner is hanging tough, despite new stories that seem to come out every day.
Businesswoman Patti Roscoe, who met Filner decades ago, revealed that “on numerous occasions, he put me in what I guess now is the famous headlock; and I felt fearful, even as well as I knew him, because it was an invasion into my space. He would come in and try to kiss me on the lips and I’d have to squirm to get away. And just as recently as a few months ago this happened. I turned and he just slobbered down my chin. And I was so violated and so offended. It’s just such a terrible invasion.”
Sharon Bernie–Cloward, who ran the city’s Port Tenants Association, said that in 2010, while Filner was still in Congress, he saw her at an event, told her she was beautiful and that he “wanted to date me” after his re-election. Two years later at another event, when he was running for mayor, “he gave me a hug” as she talked with friends. “And then he touched me, actually groped me on my backside inappropriately,” Bernie-Cloward said. “I was left there startled and fearful. In fact, I actually had someone walk me to my car that night.”
Earlier this month, following Filner’s broken engagement, Fink and two other women came forward. Irene McCormack Jackson, his former communications chief, alleged in a sexual harassment suit that he kissed and groped her at City Hall and suggested, “wouldn’t it be great if you took off your panties and worked without them on?” And school psychologist Morgan Rose told the U-T San Diego that in 2009, during a meeting at a restaurant to discuss her non-profit children’s organization, Filner told her, “your eyes have bewitched me,” and tried to kiss her four times after leaving his seat and squeezing next to her in a booth.
And these are just the tales being recounted this week. Yucky, yes, but doubtless not the last we’ll hear from Mayor I’m A Hugger.