San Diego Mayor Bob Filner agreed on August 21 to resign amid numerous and credible allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. Friday, August 30 marks his final day in office. Mired in controversy throughout his entire political career, this is the likely death knell for the Filner's tenure in politics. This isn't the only time Filner has landed himself in hot water, though. His ultimate demise was only a matter of time.
With a Ph.D. in the history of science and an A.B. in chemistry from Cornell, Filner’s shift to politics was an abrupt one. In 1992, Filner was elected to the House of Representatives and was reelected virtually unopposed nine times. His first election to the House began with a tight, five-way Democratic primary. His major opponent, whom he marginally defeated, was his former boss Jim Bates. This election marked a comeback attempt for Bates, who ironically, lost his congressional seat in 1990 over a sexual harassment scandal. Beating Bates in the primaries and ultimately gaining the seat, Filner began his federal career. The irony of this foreboding event marked the start of a bumpy ride for Filner. Filner was just elected as mayor of San Diego in 2012, and roughly a year and a half later, he is leaving as he so frequently has in the past — in controversy and scandal.
Demarcated by his arrest and two-month incarceration in 1961 as a “freedom rider,” Filner has always had a flagrant disrespect and disregard for the law and what it means to be a true civil servant. He instead viewed his positions of power as means of sleazy coercion and opportunities ripe for exploitation. As an apt depiction of his true “off-camera” person, in 2007 Filner lost his temper in an inexcusable manner even for those not in the public eye. Regardless of the fact that any elected official should ideally be held to a higher standard, after his bags did not show up on time at baggage claim, Filner took matters into his own hands. He entered the United Airlines office clearly agitated and proceeded to remain in a restricted area until the police were called. He was ultimately charged with assault and battery, implying that some forcible actions were taken, but that was reduced down to a trespassing charge. This incident even sparked an initial, yet unfinished congressional investigation. Oh, and by the way, he was on his way to visit American troops in Iraq.
More recently, in June of this year, Filner went on a trip to Paris with his now-estranged fiancée. Again, reflecting the haphazard nature of this politician’s conduct, an investigation was launched to look further into his potential abuse of a city credit card. This is in addition to the fact that most costs of the trip were paid for by the nonprofit group, Organization for Iranian-American Communities. Filner touted the trip as a diplomatic mission of sorts. However, given the political climate surrounding Iran these days, his affiliation with the group should be, at the very least, called into question.
Finally, throughout the summer, allegations of sexual misconduct by Filner have mounted. Several women came forward to say that Filner sexually harassed them while he was in Congress. The time frame could have easily spanned his entire tenure, which was roughly two decades. Additionally, others have stepped forward recently and made similar claims of sexual harassment about the 70-year-old mayor. All told, the allegations that have surfaced total 19. Even one would be too many. But through his political career, 19 women have at least spoken up about it. And given his track record in this area, there could easily be more who are staying silent. Statisticians refer to this unknown yet probable addition as the “dark figure.” So what is Filner’s “dark figure”?
Beyond his highly inappropriate behavior, an additional saddening aspect of Filner’s tumultuous political career is the positions of trust and leadership to which he was elected during the course of these and surely more scandals. Filner, and indeed all politicians and elected officials, should be held to a higher standard. They should be our champions, representing us as citizens in the most efficacious way. Filner’s deplorable actions leading to his resignation should cause us as Americans to do more than just get angry at him and then let it fade away as an interesting news item. Rather, we should take this situation and turn it into a positive, calling out abuses, sexual and otherwise, and refusing to stand for such behavior among people in general, and our elected officials most notably.