On Friday, the embattled mayor of San Diego officially steps down. Allegations of sexual harassment against Bob Filner have rocked the eighth-largest American city, which now has to pick up the pieces and elect a new mayor.
The announcement last week that Filner would leave office was greeted with cheers, boos and a flurry of activity from the press — but it all went quiet when the soon-to-be ex-mayor emerged from a swell of bodyguards to speak at the podium.
“I take responsibility for putting the city through a very bad time,” Filner said. “Again, I apologize to all of you. Certainly it was never my intention to be a mayor who went out like this.”
Then the cracked voice and tone of apology gave way to indignation — and blame: “I started my political career facing lynch mobs,” Filner said, “and I think we have just faced one here in San Diego.”
That tone of persecution isn’t completely misplaced, says University of California political scientist Steve Erie. As the first Democratic mayor in San Diego in 20 years, Filner went into office with a target on his back, Erie says.
“He was always a fighter for the little person. And his campaign was one of putting not only neighborhoods, but putting people of color, community activists, environmental and neighborhood activists first. They have not had a voice,” Erie says. “This is a town that has been run by the downtown corporate welfare crowd for years.”
Erie says the terrible irony is the guy who was supposed to stand up for the little person was going around making women feel small. Women like Laura Fink, the second to publically accuse Filner.
Fink, who is also a Democrat, says a true progressive vision involves ending a culture of sexual harassment across the board.
“With more people coming forward, with more people reporting it, the less impact it will have and the stronger each workplace will be,” Fink says. “And the more accountable these men in power will be.”
So far, no woman has entered the race to replace Filner. A special election has been set for Nov. 19. It is unclear what party might have the upper hand.
Until then, City Council President Todd Gloria will serve as interim mayor. Gloria was one of the many members of Filner’s own party who called for the mayor to step down.
“My hope is that we can show that Democrats can run this city and run it effectively and competently,” he says. “I don’t know that we’ve really seen that for the last number of months, but I know that we can see that in the next few months.”
Gloria won’t say yet if he is running to replace Filner permanently. But as he packs to make the move eight floors up to the mayor’s office, he says the city needs to heal.
“When the average San Diegan can go about their day not wondering what horrible new story is going to come out of this building, I think that heals the city,” Gloria says.
Another possible contender in the special election is longtime Republican council member Kevin Faulconer. Despite being on different sides of the political aisle, he and Gloria have been pretty inseparable as of late.
“Now we have an opportunity as a city to come together, to heal,” he says, “particularly in the next several months.”
But those next several months will also serve as the staging grounds for what could be a very contentious election.