SAN DIEGO — As eager as I am to say adios to San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, there’s something we all need to think about as he goes.
I can’t let him get away with what he said in his resignation speech, an angry and defensive screed in front of the City Council that he was apparently allowed to deliver as part of his negotiation with San Diego officials over the terms of surrender. The deal seems to be that he would only walk away if he was given the chance to walk all over his critics. He could save some face, and the city could save itself by ending this soap opera by the sea.
After being accused of sexual misconduct – or at the very least, lecherous behavior – by 18 women, and admitting that he had a problem and had tarnished the office, Mayor Naughty had to go. But his ego wouldn’t allow him to go quietly. Besides, what fun is it being run out of the office, on the heels of a recall election no less, if you can’t settle a few scores on your way out the door?
The problem is how he chose to do it. Many of the words he used were irresponsible and inappropriate, and they proved to be another example of our national affliction – the tendency of Americans to play the victim and duck responsibility for their actions.
It gets worse.
As a young activist in the 1960s, Filner was part of the Freedom Riders, a profound example of civil disobedience where blacks and whites rode on integrated Greyhound buses through the segregated South – blacks in front, whites in the back in defiance of Jim Crow. The 70-year-old mayor has milked that experience ever since and used it to build a political career. In his final days in office, the few supporters he had left were largely people of color. Conscious of that fact, Filner resorted to incendiary rhetoric intended to inflame those audiences.
Once you’re evicted, why not set the house on fire?
“Now I have to caution the council about one thing and I guess the city,” Filner said. “You know, I started my political career facing lynch mobs. And I think we have just faced one here in San Diego. You’re going to have to deal with that.”
Lynch mobs? Yes, he went there. He obviously hoped to create a sense of empathy with minorities who support him, some of whom filled the council chamber the day he announced his resignation.
Filner took advantage of that. One of the most selfish things he did during the sordid affair was allow people to put their reputations on the line and vouch for him when he had to have known that the list of alleged victims would only get longer.
“In a lynch mob mentality,” Filner continued, “rumors become allegations, allegations become facts, facts become evidence of sexual harassment, which have led to demands for my resignation and recall. Not one allegation, members of the council, has ever been independently verified or proven in court. I have never sexually harassed anyone. But the hysteria that has been created, and many of you helped to feed, is the hysteria of a lynch mob.”
My goodness. Look who was talking about feeding hysteria?
The mayor had every opportunity to address these allegations, and he chose to keep quiet. What really fed the hysteria was the perception that he had done something wrong. Then, with his racially charged rhetoric, Filner fed it again. We knew he had no shame. Now we also know he has no class.
He finished off with this: “As I said, I faced lynch mobs many times when I was younger. No evidence was needed. The mob knew who was guilty. Who needed due process? Well, ladies and gentlemen, democracy needs due process. San Diego needs due process. Those of you in the media and in politics who fed this hysteria, I think, need to look at what you helped create. Because you have unleashed a monster.”
Actually what San Diego really needs is a new mayor. And now that a disgraced leader has stepped down, the city will get one. Meanwhile, what Filner needs is help. It’s obvious that the monster he’s talking about lives within.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at email@example.com.