April 3 2013 10:51 AM

Bob Filner maybe takes things a step too far

Bob Filner
Photo by David Rolland

In politics, there's nothing more appealing than a politician who takes the highest road possible while still passionately pursuing a policy objective. We're not talking about capitulating in the service of political harmony; we're talking about forcefully taking a principled stand while avoiding unnecessarily burning down the legislative house.

Let's look at San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and the Tourism Marketing District hostage crisis:

Last November, the City Council authorized the mayor to sign a tourism-marketing agreement, but former Mayor Jerry Sanders didn't sign the agreement the council had in mind before he left office a week later. As we learned when the matter later went to court, the council left Filner an opportunity when it didn't specify precisely which agreement it wanted signed.

Filner hated the agreement the council wanted signed and held hostage the marketing money that was tied to it, sending leaders of the local tourism industry into a tizzy. Judge Timothy Taylor ruled in his favor—at least until the council regrouped and passed an ordinance ordering Filner to sign the agreement it and the tourism folks wanted. But much more time was guaranteed to tick off the marketing clock—and time is money: Filner would've vetoed the ordinance, the council would have to override the veto and Filner would continue to hold the money and force the tourism folks to take him back to court. Tick-tock.

Filner won. In a deal reportedly brokered by Filner ally and Councilmember David Alvarez, the tourism people acquiesced to some of Filner's demands. The mayor got what he thinks is a better deal for San Diegans.

This is exactly what Filner said he'd do. He said he'd get all up in the grill of the kind of people who've always gotten their way—the suit-and-tie power-lunch people. He said he'd mess with the status quo.

And the power-lunch people, probably underestimating Filner's battle skills, harrumphed their way to council chambers and court, incredulous at Filner's nerve—which likely delighted Filner.

So far, so good. We supported Filner's attempt to get an amended agreement. It was left on his desk, and he didn't like it. He did what he needed to do to get the leverage he needed to change it. Job well done.

But he didn't stop there. He got into a cringe-inducing argument with an employee of the Tourism Authority while he was addressing the City Council in a public hearing. Worse, though, he haphazardly flung accusations of political patronage at the City Council and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. Mind you, it's not that we don't think patronage happens all the time at City Hall. However, as was immediately pointed out, Filner can be accused of the same thing, at a much higher monetary level. As noted by U-T San Diego, his campaign benefited from the generous support of the union representing hotel workers, and Filner was trying—righteously, we'd say—to get hotel workers better pay as part of a new marketing agreement. Linking campaign contributions to policy choices is never wrong, but its power is diminished when the stone's being thrown from the window of a glass house.

Here's the thing: As the U-T reported, City Councilmember Sherri Lightner has benefited the most from tourism-industry campaign donations. It would be one thing if Lightner were a Republican who'd be expected to oppose Filner at every turn. But she's an independent-minded Democrat who could be enormously useful to Filner, particularly now, as budget talks are about to begin. Filner has a long list of services he wants funded, but money is tight. He needs as many allies on the council as he can get.

We support Filner's broader agenda. We want him to succeed, and so, too, we believe, do the Democrats on the City Council. We wish Lightner and Council President Todd Gloria had sided with Filner in the tourism flap; for whatever reason, they didn't. But policy disagreement doesn't always call for scorched-earth retribution.

We often agreed with former City Attorney Mike Aguirre's positions, but his style and tactics were something else altogether, and he wasn't reelected. We want a better fate for Filner, and so we hope he chooses the higher road whenever possible.

What do you think? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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