July 17 2013 09:02 AM

Mayor Filner's blistering trial by public opinion

Photo by John R. Lamb

"Beware the pine-tree's withered branch! / Beware the awful avalanche!" —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Part of Spin Cycle wants to put embattled Mayor Bob Filner in a "Filner Headlock" of appreciation. Another part wants to punch him square in the nuts.

Spin says this because before Monday's press conference outside City Hall featuring one fist-pounding, pissed-off Donna Frye detailing unverifiable accounts of a mayor as sexual predator (she did not use that term, but that's what she described), Spin spent a twilight hour Sunday soaking in the magic that has become Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama.

Adorable children played with their Hot Wheels and pedaled their Princess bicycles in circles around proud parents who now make the revamped pedestrian plaza a frequent part of their lives. There's something about total strangers gathering and sharing a laugh that seems so alien these days.

But it happens every day in that plaza, to Filner's credit.

The anonymous descriptions of Filner's dark side with regards to women, however, has shattered that feeling of accomplishment on the policy side, which also includes a five-year labor deal. If you think Carl DeMaio could have pulled that off by now, you're smoking something that Bonnie Dumanis wants to confiscate.

This paper's editorial response last week to the allegations of unwanted sexual advances, despite no publicly available details at the time, was swift and definitive— the mayor should get the help he needs but not while serving simultaneously as the city's top politico.

Conversely, the conservative U-T San Diego—the daily that loves to hate Filner—continues to skewer Filner on its flailing editorial pages while remaining perhaps the only Republican voice not calling for the mayor's head (perhaps realizing the readership boom this drama has provided).

Meanwhile, social media is exploding with so many holier-than-thou tut-tuts, I-told-you-so's, tasteless thumb-speak and fake concern for women from local Republican leaders despite that party's voting record to the contrary that it's enough to make Spin consider a new calling, like the grueling task of strawberry picking.

Yes, we're all pillars of exemplary behavior and Filner is just south of Hannibal Lecter. Got it.

But here's a reality check: Politics is a bawdy, ribald, gallows-humor contact sport not for the faint of heart or thin of skin. The business equally attracts youthful, wide-eyed, life-experience neophytes and foul-mouthed men and women. One female politician's "Oh, you love me" proclamation to a man elicits a hearty laugh. The other way around, and it's a trip to sexual-harassment class.

And before you blow your top and call Spin a thoughtless pig, let me return to the original premise. If these allegations are true, reserve a spot for Spin in the front of the line to deliver a knee to Filner's privates. But bend it, shape it, anything you like, they are just that—allegations, and no amount of lectern pounding or press conferences held by former allies will change that, in Spin's opinion.

Many who know Filner practically come to tears laughing at the prospect of this guy leaving City Hall under his own power. This is his dream job, the cherry on the top of a long political career heading toward sunset. Some privately even suggest he'd remove himself from the living before relinquishing the office.

Then again, people—given this atmosphere of speedy trial by public flogging—are saying a lot of things that a civilized society would be hard-pressed to recognize. And some quarters in the local media complex are eating it up like it's the county fair and someone just handed them some deep-fried cotton candy.

Sure, Spin has relied on anonymous sources in the past, but not for something as serious as the quicksand that is sexual harassment, where any questioning of the intent and context of shielded accusers is met with sneers, jeers and assumptions that the questioners believe either 1) that the alleged victims "asked for it" or 2) that seeking the truth will only victimize the victims again.

Well, answer Spin this: Do the nameless, faceless allegations and the method of their delivery actually serve its intended purpose? Or do they widen the circle of victimization when media outlets begin calling every female city employee to grill them about whether they've ever been on the receiving end of the "Filner Headlock," the "Filner Dance" or the Filner tongue?

Hate Spin for saying it, fine, but this—according to anonymous sources—is still the land of the innocent until proven guilty, the George Zimmerman trial notwithstanding.

The women holding "due process" signs behind the street-corner kangaroo court Monday have a point. The unnamed women who apparently fear media-hounding, name-calling and charges that they are part of some grand conspiracy to rid the city of an old, boorish mayor and replace him with bright, shiny shape-shifter Nathan Fletcher also have a point.

Attorney Marco Gonzalez told the throng yesterday that the claims he intends to file against the mayor could cost the city "millions." Spin would suggest—no disrespect to the invisible accusers—that Filner resigning would cost millions, as well, including a pencil-sketch estimate of $3 million to $6 million for a special citywide election to replace Filner, City Clerk Liz Maland told Spin.

Filner has acknowledged his longstanding flaw in dealing respectfully with women, a downside that all agree requires immediate attention. His recent staff changes, including the return of Tony Buckles, Filner's long-time congressional chief of staff (and a retired Army officer who's also known as "The Colonel"), who served as Filner's hand-signaling debate-calmer during last year's campaign, seems a positive step to gain control of an office that clearly was coming unglued under spotty leadership and piss-poor transparency.

Spin's guess is that Filner stays and fights till the end, City Councilmember Scott Sherman continues to warn of a city in stop-motion and his staffers prove it by attending he-said / she-said press conferences and opining on social media all day rather than getting the people's work done.

Like they say, admitting your problem is a huge first step. But separating Good Bob from Bad Bob, Apologetic Bob from Defiant Bob, Allegedly Lecherous Bob from Demonstrative Hugger Bob—who really knows how that will turn out?

The short answer: only Filner knows.

Got a tip? Send it to johnl@sdcitybeat.com or follow John R. Lamb on Twitter @johnrlamb.


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