Aug. 14 2013 10:10 AM

Will the Democratic Party avoid the taint?

Francine “Larry” Busby, Bob “Curly” Filner and Lori “Moe” Salda?a
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb

    "I have a different vision of leadership. A leadership is someone who brings people together."

    —George W. Bush

    It appears that if the local Republican Party has its way, every future political candidate in San Diego will be required to pass the Bob Filner sniff test.

    Did Candidate A endorse Filner in the mayor's race? Is there a photo of Candidate B with Filner? Are they smiling together?

    Much the same way that every Republican who ever stood next to disgraced former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for a photo-op has likely sent those photos to the trash heap, so, too, will every Democrat be required to rummage through her or his files searching for incriminating photos with Mayor Letch.

    This will be a handy tactic for the local GOP, seeing that their own prospects for a future mayorship rest in such shaky hands. Poll after poll shows City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer with such little name recognition citywide that it actually has people talking about a Jan Goldsmith run.

    That's not a winning formula in a city where 40 percent of registered voters are Democrats and 27 percent are Republicans.

    That's not to say that the Democratic Party in San Diego hasn't taken its share of hits in recent weeks as it tries to deal with the daily dribble of stomach-churning news that leaks out about Mayor Hideaway, from the litany of stories about Filner's perverse, on-the-job dating efforts to his alleged rapid run through behavior therapy to his return home to reclusion.

    But leading those hits, certainly on social media, has been none other than former state Assemblymember Lori Saldaña, whose name at one time had been floated as a possible successor to local Dem Party chair Jess Durfee, who departed the position last year to much pomp and circumstance following November's successful election run. Francine Busby, said to be Durfee's choice as a replacement, easily won the chairmanship.

    Saldaña has made no bones about her public disdain both for Filner—with whom she tussled for years over a border sewage-treatment project—and Durfee, who she believes sold out the party's progressive values for the almighty campaign bucks that flow more readily to moderate candidates.

    Part of the backstory, however, is that when Durfee announced that he would be stepping down as party chair after eight years, rumors began floating that Saldaña might be interested in the volunteer job.

    "That was Jess Durfee's worst nightmare, is what people were telling me," Saldaña told Spin Cycle this week. "I was never actually interested in it, but a lot of activists were excited about how close my campaign went up against the millions of dollars that went against us."

    That reference is to her close-but-no-cigar race against moderate Scott Peters in last year's 52nd Congressional District primary contest to challenge incumbent Brian Bilbray, whom Peters went on to defeat in November.

    Politics, Saldaña is fond of saying, is "like show business for ugly people. You hit your marks. You have your entourage. You have people watching you. The play's the thing." And played she felt, particularly when she said she was pressured to endorse Filner by labor leaders. This despite Filner endorsing Peters for Congress while Peters made no effort to return the favor for Filner.

    Durfee, meanwhile, isn't buying it. While he declined to comment on his successor's leadership, he added, "My only beef is with Lori Saldaña running around pointing fingers when she very publicly endorsed this guy. It's just sort of annoying."

    In recent weeks, Saldaña has garnered considerable media attention over her claims that she warned Durfee in 2011 that Filner had a serious problem with mistreating women. She took significant heat for suggesting to Slate magazine that "as a gay man" Durfee failed to understand the power dynamics involved in Filner's creepy dealings.

    "His response was, ‘He's a single man. He can do what he wants,'" Saldaña said.

    "I talked to a lot of gay men who found that offensive," Durfee countered. "It didn't make sense to me. Is she suggesting that if I'm straight I'd get it, or would I only get it if I were a woman? Either way, the ‘single man' comment is not what I ever said. Apparently, she's saying that only a woman can make the right judgment calls in terms of sexual harassment."

    Durfee even theorizes that Saldaña endorsed Filner simply to gain "political points" against Peters. "This had nothing to do with party leadership or anyone else putting pressure on her," he said. "She basically tried to discredit Peters in front of Democrats. And, apparently, her concerns for Bob Filner all went away at that point in time."

    Saldaña, no shrinking violet, was adamant. "Jess thought I was talking about Bob's dating behavior," she said. "No, Jess, I said these are women he is meeting as part of his job responsibilities. This is why women who report harassment are ridiculed and demeaned."

    Spin asked Saldaña how she thought Busby, the new party chair, was handling the media storm. "Let's just say I have lost faith in party chairmen in general," she said.

    Busby, meanwhile, defended Durfee's assertion— that he asked to meet with women whom Saldaña said she had spoken to about Filner's inappropriate behavior, but none came forward. "As a party chair, that's about all you can do," Busby said.

    As for stepping down from the top post with Run Women Run, a nonprofit organization that boosts female political candidates, Busby said it was a time-management decision, although "some of it could have been possible conflicts of interest" balancing the nonpartisan nature of a nonprofit and the chairmanship of a clearly partisan political body.

    "There are some people who disagree with me, but the vast majority of Democrats in San Diego believe I've done the right thing," Busby said. "We have to balance that sense of betrayal by Filner with the huge disappointment that he wasn't able to deliver on the mission we elected him to do.

    "It's sort of a no-win situation for us," she added. "It's a very difficult situation, but one I'm prepared and seasoned to handle." 

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