San Diego mayor battles sexual harassment claims

  • Updated: August 6, 2013 - 7:20 PM
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San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.

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Sexual harassment complaints didn’t stop Arnold Schwarzenegger from winning the California governor’s race in 2003 and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner says he won’t be undone either. But law enforcement in the nation’s eighth largest city has taken the unusual step of establishing a victims’ hot line to field complaints about Filner.

Instead of heeding a chorus of calls for his resignation, the 70-year-old Democrat says he’s undergoing two weeks of behavioral therapy.

“Once the kiss of death for a political career, announcing that you’re in or about to enter therapy has actually become go-to damage-control strategy for public servants,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum.

But is sexual harassment caused by mental illness? Not according to Amanda Marcotte, writing for Slate: “Sexual harassment is born out of a desire to put the woman you’re harassing in her place …” Exactly.

Filner was elected mayor last year after serving 20 years in Congress. He’s been accused of unwanted groping, kissing, holding them in headlocks and other sexual behavior by at least 10 women, including a university dean, college administrator and a retired Navy read-admiral. His former communications director recently filed suit.

The mayor initially apologized for his behavior and said he needed help, but has since denied any wrongdoing. His attorney said the city should pay some of Filner’s legal expenses since the mayor was never provided sexual harassment training.

In the American legal system, sexual harassment cases are so difficult to win that workers often don’t try. But in the court of public opinion, Filner is being pummeled. Polls show a majority of residents want him to resign. Short of that, the process of a long and costly recall election may be the city’s best chance to boot the mayor.

Scott Lemieux, writing for the American Prospect, distinguishes Filner’s behavior from that of philandering politicians such as former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who was recently elected to Congress. “An adulterer can be a good boss; a sexual harasser, by definition, is not,” Lemieux wrote.

Filner is also taking a drumming in the national press. In a biting commentary titled, “No room for lecherous mayors,” CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette wrote:

“Welcome to America’s Finest City where the beaches are pristine, the downtown is spotless, but — if you believe the accusers — the mayor is filthy.”

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Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer. Follow her on Twitter @StribSusan and on Google+

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