Aug. 21 2013 08:21 AM

Let's stay on message, people

John Cox
Photo by David Rolland

It didn't take long for the campaign to recall San Diego Mayor Bob Filner to jump the rails and descend into partisan zealotry. On Sunday, the day the campaign could begin collecting petition signatures, recall supporters held a "Freedom from Filner" rally at Civic Center Plaza, and one of the speakers, businessman and Republican activist John Cox, used the opportunity to attack unions and other donors to Filner's mayoral campaign who've used the mayor as a "puppet" to get what they want. He said that once Filner was ousted, it would be time to go after the Democratic-controlled state Legislature. The state Legislature!

The official recall campaign didn't organize the rally, but it supported, promoted and collected signatures at it, and Cox told U-T San Diego that he's given at least $10,000 to the campaign.

Citizens can give to the recall campaign or simply sign a petition for whatever reason they want, but campaign leaders would be wise to do their best to keep the effort on point. The more they allow partisan rhetoric to elbow its way into the narrative, the higher the chance that they'll alienate Democrats and independents, and with just 39 days to collect more than 101,000 signatures, that's a recipe for failure. The wind beneath the recall's wings is Filner's pathological mistreatment of women. Period.

CityBeat supports the recall campaign only to the extent that it pressures Filner to resign. A recall election would be bad for two reasons: It will likely leave San Diego with a mayor for whom far less than half of the electorate voted, and it could leave San Diego with a mayor named Carl DeMaio. In a recall election, voters are asked two simultaneous questions: Do you want to recall Filner, and whom, among this list of candidates, would you prefer to have as mayor? If 50 percent of the electorate plus one voter favors a recall, the candidate with the most votes in the second question wins. There's no runoff between the top two vote-getters. If DeMaio decides to switch from his run for Congress to another run for mayor, his high name recognition would put him in the fabled catbird seat. If anything's as bad as Filner continuing to be mayor, it's DeMaio becoming mayor.

We want Filner to relinquish his grip on the city, and we hope a successful recall signature drive convinces him to do it. That would trigger a special primary election and then a top-two runoff—an expensive proposition but a better process.

Meanwhile, Cox wasn't the only one blurring lines this week. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith suggested that the City Council consider taking advantage of a municipal law that he believes may allow the council to petition a judge to remove the mayor for misuse of public funds; Filner allegedly used a city credit card to make personal purchases. Goldsmith has acknowledged that the process for that is unclear.

If Twitter is any indication, there's significant support for pursuing Goldsmith's path among people who want Filner out of office. The important thing, they say, is to be rid of Filner—the method used is secondary. And we empathize with that thinking.

But at this stage, we're opposed—at least until both the idea and the full extent of Filner's use of the credit card are aired out publicly at a City Council meeting. The only reason we've called for Filner's resignation is his abominable behavior toward women, and we think there ought to be a clear nexus between the crime and the punishment.

But also, just as political rhetoric like Cox's might undermine an otherwise righteous recall rationale, finding any ol' convenient way to boot Filner from office might alienate citizens who are on the fence or leaning slightly toward thinking he needs to go, but only because of his pattern of uninvited advances on women. It would play right into the hands of people who believe anti-Filner forces have conspired to depose the mayor because of his policy agenda and are merely using sexual harassment as a smokescreen.

We hope all of this becomes moot soon. We hope the mayor finds his way to resignation, whether it's through a settlement of his legal troubles or not. But if he doesn't, those who want him gone must keep in mind that this is about women, and nothing else.

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