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Bob Filner: Up to Now

| April 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

After last November’s election, Carl DeMaio, who lost to Bob Filner in the mayor’s race, held several press conferences to share with us what he thought needed to happen at City Hall and how he would monitor Mr. Filner’s tenure in office, even if that had yet to occur.

I suggested on Facebook Mr. DeMaio’s conduct was unseemly, that he should consider leaving town for a while and come back, say when the mayor had been in office for, oh, 90-days, and then tell us what he thought. I have no illusions Mr. DeMaio pays attention to what I write, but he did disappear and, so far I know, hasn’t been heard from since; which is as it should be, at least for now.

Of course, the U-T San Diego was so extreme in its support of Mr. DeMaio (remember the front page endorsement wraps?) it lost whatever credibility it had to opine on the contest for mayor (at least in the eyes of most Democrats), chose not to follow Mr. DeMaio’ example and began immediately critically weighing in on the mayor’s performance (surprise).

One might have hoped, as it relates to the newspaper, our new mayor would have enjoyed a brief cessation from criticism, but that didn’t happen; too bad.

Herbert Block, or Herblock, as he was famously known, the great political cartoonist of the Washington Post, long portrayed Richard Nixon, with a heavy, dark beard; one that made Mr. Nixon looks quite menacing. However, when Richard Nixon became president in 1968, Herblock dropped the heavy, dark beard, and gave the new president a clean shave, which was appropriate. But no such concession was conceded Bob Filner by the U-T.

Mayor Filner has been in office 118-days, but having supported him – I predicted in this space last April he would face Mr. DeMaio in the mayoral run off and would win – I’m released by whatever restraints I deemed otherwise appropriate for Mr. DeMaio and Mr. Manchester’s newspaper.

Several things have happened in the mayor’s short term in office, issues that have upset people. Among which are his commandeering the city attorney’s press conference, refusal to sign an agreement with the hotel/motel people agreed to by Mayor Sanders and city council, but while offering hotel/motel a compromise insisted no one working for any agency associated with hotel/motel be paid more than $160,000 a year.

So, in that order, let me say this:

First, the mayor’s commandeering of City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s press conference was in exceedingly bad form. The mayor has his own bully pulpit; he needn’t have upstaged Mr. Goldsmith. Never mind the issue was hotel/motel and the mayor’s marked unhappiness with what he thinks is a really bad deal (it is). The mayor should have called his own press conference to disagree with the city attorney; that’s what decorum and proper respect for the dignity of others mandates, that’s what civil society requires. That the mayor’s uninvited participation occurred right after his presence at a conference on civility, only underscored his bad manners.

But the idea held by some this was indicative of a politician going off half-cocked “is silly”, one highly knowledgeable political observer suggests. If you paid attention to what the mayor said at Mr. Goldsmith’s news conference, you realize he spoke in “complete sentences.” That alone, this individual contends, should have disabused anyone of thinking Mayor Filner had not thought this through, that this was just a “let’s crash the city attorney’s news conference.” Which then makes the mayor’s conduct all the more regrettable – the stealing away of a news conference from another publicly elected official. (Oh, by the way, I do think politicians speaking in complete sentences, is a good idea.)

On the second matter, by refusing to sign the hotel/motel agreement intended to free up millions of dollars to promote tourism, the mayor ticked off a whole lot of powerful people in our town. That the ticked off also happen to be the very people who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, into Carl DeMaio’s campaign, is just, what, happenstance? Probably not, but the mayor believes any agreement written for 40-years is a bad agreement; it would be bad enough in the private sector but when public money is involved, as it surely is, then it is irresponsible.

If you think the mayor loses on this in public opinion or political support, you would be wrong. Whatever level of attention people give the goings on at City Hall, they know enough to know a 40-year agreement should have been a non-started.

I confess when the agreement was reached with hotel/motel interests by Mayor Sanders and the city council, with the city attorney’s legal backing, I was clueless. Had I paid attention my voice would have been heard. It almost certainly would have been ignored, but it would have been heard.

Hotel/motel people, feeling their 40-year deal was legitimate, went to court to force the mayor’s signature, and came away with, at minimum, a pyrrhic victory. But whatever the final judgment in the court of law, in the court of public opinion, the mayor has already won – and he knows it.

However, the money being withheld from hotel/motel because they don’t have the mayor’s signature is not without consequences, as it does affect their ability to publicize San Diego as a destination city for conferences and conventions – and a downturn in that industry would be a big economic hit for our town, one we can ill afford. (In a subsequent ruling a different court found the mayor does not need to sign the agreement.)

But since the mayor is not stupid, he gets it, and thus offered hotel/motel a “compromise.” He would sign the new five and one-half year proposal offered by hotel/motel (against the original 40) in return for their agreeing no executive paid with direct public dollars made more than $160,000 a year. To the U-T’s credit they put that story on the front page and provided a balanced account of what Mayor Filner wanted and the push back by hotel/motel.

Here again, there is no conceivable way the mayor loses public standing by proposing a $160,000 cap on executive compensation for those whose salaries are paid for, in part or whole, by taxpayer dollars; can’t happen. (But someone should tell that to Joe Terzi, San Diego Tourism Authority’s CEO, who made $435,121 in 2011, and thinks the mayor’s salary cap idea is ridiculous.)

On writing “Bob Filner & the Politics of Change” for this newspaper in December, I said he would be a mayor like no other; that in the 163-year history of San Diego, we’ve never had a mayor this liberal, ever. I also wrote with his election November 6 the dominant business interests of our town suffered their worst political setback, ever.

No one familiar with San Diego politics would dispute either contention, but amazingly the very business interests so soundly defeated election day appear clueless; they think, it seems, it’s business as usual. Sorry, it’s not.

I approve of much of what Mayor Filner is endeavoring to accomplish, to bring about changes clearly needed; changes he was elected to effect. I do not, therefore, have issue with his issues, but I have issues with his personal style, which can be off-putting, at best, insulting, at worst. And, on a personal level, I am baffled by his betrayal of friendship.

However, the chance that he, Robert Earl “Bob” Filner, at age 70, will change, that he will stop dismissing out of hand those who fail to measure up to his intellectual standards; that he will cease haranguing those who disagree with him, remains to be seen. He is who he is. So am I. So are you. But you’re not mayor, neither am I, but he is.

Somehow going forward, in the 44-months ahead, the mayor must find a way to temper his tantrums, because we need him to be mayor of all the people – and the mayor I promised when I endorsed him one year ago this month.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader.

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