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Political Watchers Say The Silence Of Insiders Enabled Filner

Above: The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce's eighth annual trip to Mexico.

San Diego’s trade mission to Mexico City this April was billed as a chance to forge stronger cross-border ties, but people on the trip say it was also a chance for Mayor Bob Filner to troll for women.

Aired 8/6/13 on KPBS News.

Most San Diegans can’t decide what they find more jolting about the sexual harassment scandal surrounding Mayor Bob Filner: the unsavory allegations; or the silence of those who knew.

And troll he did, according to Sharon Cloward.

Special Feature Read the Backstory

All of the accusations, statements and apologies from the key players in the developing story about allegations of sexual harassment in Mayor Bob Filner's office and calls from former mayoral supporters for his resignation.

“Several women told me and others that he had touched them inappropriately and talked to them inappropriately,” she said.

Cloward was on the trip. She’s one of several women to publicly accuse Filner of unwanted sexual advances. Her alleged encounters took place before the Mexico trip. That’s why she said she asked for a room at the Intercontinental Presidente Hotel in Mexico City that was not on the same floor as Filner’s.

Sources, who went on the trip but spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a second woman on the trade mission complained to her boss about Filner and then stayed in her room for the rest of the trip. Another woman reportedly left in the middle of a meal because she could no longer take his alleged crude behavior, and sources said the mayor sent repeated text messages to a third woman asking her out.

Of the 14 women on the mission, sources said Filner sent out sexual signals to at least half. Several said they felt uncomfortable sharing their stories publicly because they believed their business with the city would be jeopardized.

But what about the 50 men on the trip, some of whom represent the who’s who in the San Diego business world? What did they see? What did they hear? What did they know?

“I didn’t know about it,” former Mayor Jerry Sanders said.

He attended the trade mission as head of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. He said he’s ready to stand with the women if they should decide to speak out, but he’s not surprised that others who may have known about Filner’s alleged sexual antics in Mexico City didn’t.

“They’re afraid of what’s going to happen to their business, their employees,” Sanders said. “The power imbalance is so great there. It’s just something you don’t think about until you’re stuck in that situation.”

Power dynamics are why public silence trumped private outrage despite years of whispers that Filner was harassing women.

“Make no mistake about it, Bob Filner — notwithstanding his current situation — has a lot of power in this community,” attorney Bob Ottilie said. “He has the ability to impact a whole lot of people’s interests.”

Many now say Filner abused that power with the help of key players. Union and Democratic Party leaders ignored the alleged harassment for years because they liked Filner’s progressive agenda, so did others who stood to gain.

“Anybody that’s going to be on a trade mission with the mayor presumably perceives themselves as on the inside,” Ottilie said. “They don’t want to do anything at all to harm that position. So you see something wrong and you look the other way because it’s Bob. It’s the mayor. That’s the way people operate that are close to the center of political power. It’s not necessarily a pretty thing to see in politics.”

The same may apply to Filner’s staffers. Former congressional aide Laura Fink documented Filner’s alleged inappropriate touching in an 2005 email to the then congressman and his aide Tony Buckles. He was recently brought in to city hall as Filner’s chief of staff after the sexual harassment scandal broke but Buckles left the post soon after Fink shared her story publicly.

But San Diego Mesa College political science professor Carl Luna said because aides depend on Filner for their own power, morality can take a back seat to self-interest, loyalty and fear.

“If your boss goes down, you go down, so it’s not unsurprising when staff cover up or at least turn a very blind eye to malfeasance by their bosses,” Luna said.

At a staff meeting in June, Filner reportedly asked former communications director Irene McCormack Jackson to offer up an example of his mistreatment of city employees. She reminded him in the presence of other city employees that he had told her she would work better without her underwear. The exchange took place at a staff meeting. McCormack Jackson has since sued the city and Filner alleging sexual harassment.

And McCormack Jackson’s attorney Gloria Allred said there’s reason to believe that Filner lorded his power over others.

“In one occasion, she told him to leave her office immediately, he responded with he was the mayor and he could be whereever he wanted,” Allred said.

Luna said the sexual harassment scandal also reveals that society may not have advanced very far from the Mad Men-era of the 1960s.

“Men today still seem to be in a frat boy culture that says, 'Hey, we can get away with this.’ They have to start changing because women are becoming more powerful, more open to the public and men are going to be held accountable increasingly. Bob Filner’s the poster child for ‘don’t do this anymore, men of America,” Luna said.

Some aides have left Filner. Vince Hall quit as chief of staff after the harassment allegations against the mayor became public. He’s described himself as a lifelong activist for women’s rights and equality.

College administrator Lisa Curtin, another of the nine women who’ve publicly accuse Finer of unwanted advances, said she wishes she hadn’t waited two years before telling her story.

But she believes those who kept silent about Filner’s alleged misconduct enabled him and failed women.

“They’ve seen it. They thought it was funny and they supported keeping it secret. I think it says there’s a lot of work that has to be done,“ she said.

Filner’s spokeswoman Lena Lewis did not respond to a request for comment.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | August 6, 2013 at 7:32 a.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

were they waiting for an opportune time to release the hounds ?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | August 6, 2013 at 8:37 a.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

There seems to be a bit of a double standard going on.

There is sympathy for the women not coming forward in a timely manner because of fear of retribution and career harm, but the men who may have been present at the time are going to be chastised for not acting?

What about their fear of retribution and career harm from Filner?

If the women themselves were afraid to come forward, it's a stretch to blame others for not coming onward on their behalf.

I witnessed a situation in a corporation once where a woman was being sexually harassed by a boss. She never complained, so a witness took it upon himself to complain on her behalf. The woman was so outraged, embarrassed, and scared for her job that someone complained for her, she completely denied everything, protected the boss, and the person who was trying to do good was forced out of the company within a year and seen by management as a trouble-maker.

Let's try and focus blame on the person doing the actual harassment and not try to get on hindsight soap-boxes proclaiming everyone who ever went on a trip with Filner is guilty of not reporting harassment!

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | August 6, 2013 at 8:50 a.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Who is the young lady in the red? And don't say the lady in red?

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Avatar for user 'Anon11'

Anon11 | August 6, 2013 at 10:01 a.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

With all the internal secrecy and abuses of power, you'd think Filner was chief of SDPD.

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Avatar for user 'Abe A'

Abe A | August 6, 2013 at 10:47 a.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree 100% with Peking_Duck_SD, the hindsight soap-boxes are really not helpful.

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Avatar for user 'Restorechildrenspool'

Restorechildrenspool | August 6, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

The Children and Families that swim in the Children's Pool in La Jolla have also been the victim of Mr. Filner's improperness. I wonder if Larry Wan and Bob Filner turn the lights down low and have cocktails while they operate the joy stick of this high tech surveillance camera and follow women around on the beach, especially when there are no seals in site. Ms. Frey , is also a supporter of this spy camera on a public beach I understand and many more of the Seal Profit Opp Gang that has been trying to close down a public beach and the only ocean pool with access for the disabled in the Continental United States. With 16,000 new maimed soldiers coming home from the Foreign Wars their country is sending them too , this ocean pool built for Those Handicapped In Life's Game is needed more than ever. Please take moment to understand the priorities here and take 5 to watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkHo0t...
Seal Profits helped to elect Bob Filner and he has vowed to close this human ocean therapy pool to the our disabled American VETs who have given everything and can no longer face life so maimed. By the time you go to sleep another 20 young men and women will have killed themselves. The suicide rate exceeds the fatality rate of the was they came from! This seems to be acceptable to Mr. Filner. and to Donna Frey and to San Diego? A military town? The breakwater wall that took 10 years to build and has been left in the care of San Diego is now slated to be CONDEMNED anyday , This is a travesty, when Challenged Athletes have to be carried down dangerous stairways at La Jolla Cove, when just 2 blocks south they could roll down a ramp and access the safe ocean pool behind the breakwater especially built for them? Some unassisted! Hello San Diego, people without the use of their legs can not swim out through the surf!! The Children's Pool needs to be restored NOW and could easily, be the best ADA ocean pool in the World with a great ramp and wheelchair lifts, and lots of handicapped parking. It should be Dedicated to our Wounded Warriors. Water therapy is perfect for the disabled. The Children's Pool is a POOL as opposed to the surf and therefore is an easy transition from a wheelchair to the water. The ramp was open for more than 65 years. I have to crawl under the gate or scoot over the lip of the wall to access it myself, as I am partially disabled and feel safe only at the Children's Pool to do therapy. The ocean is life giving. To be in the ocean and out of a wheelchair is very healing, emotionally, physically and Spiritually. Lets give some life back to our young warriors and give them a chance to go for a swim again. Please support The Restoration of the Children's Pool to be dedicated to our returning Wounded Warriors .

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Avatar for user 'Restorechildrenspool'

Restorechildrenspool | August 6, 2013 at 10:52 a.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Please do not allow the couple calling themselves a Conservancy to profit off the backs of seals and watch women and young girls , Filner's pet project at the Children's POOL. They write down the car, make and model and license plates of people who go to enjoy the beach, this is potentially leading to following people home and crimes. They hone in and video the license plates. I think I was followed home one night and drove around the block. It is very creepy. The surveillance camera operators have proven that they can not be trusted and that they have already abused the rights of this public area. The police and a ranger are being used as pawns to threaten people for swimming. Children's Pool is first and foremost LEGALLY a human pool. And a much needed one for our disabled. Please support the restoration of access to the disabled and a full ADA Ramp to go along with the ADA shower going in, a cruel joke to my friend Jack, a paraplegic ocean swimmer who needs that access to be able to need the shower! And tourist dollars? Restore this pool with ADA access and watch the flood of disabled people and their families come to the Children's Pool to finally be able to go for a swim in the Pacific Ocean in safety. A Restored Pacific Ocean ADA Pool would being people from all over the country and the world specifically to La Jolla for a swim, a destination not just a 5 minute stop off to look at a Condemned wall polluted with seal feces that stinks worse that the bird poop at the Cove! Please think logically.

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Avatar for user 'Restorechildrenspool'

Restorechildrenspool | August 6, 2013 at 10:53 a.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Check out Sydney Australia , they have dozens of ocean pools, some over a 100 years old that are maintained and clean . They have lots of seals too, but they are not allowed in their many pools. Seal profits are not fallin- for there it seems. No one is staging seal abuse videos to sway the government and public to allow the pollution and closure of the only ocean pool, putting swimmers in jeopardy of drowning as one swimmer did during a past Seal Politics closure. These Seal Opportunists have already caused one death, how many more do they want to cause?? They are philosophically different in that they are a nation of swimmers who are actually exercising in the water , as opposed to just viewing the ocean.
check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkHo0t...
They keep their pools clean and for- people -only as is necessary to keep them clean and usable. They respect their disabled and many pools are very accessible, we have only one , a very special gift and a engineering work of art, and we allow seals to pollute it and it to crumble to ruin as the disabled look on helpless. San Diego and especially La Jollans should be very ashamed. Seals have all their body parts,. they love the surf, and are great in rip tides. Seals can access all the beaches, hundreds of miles of them, The Disabled have only one access possible to the real Pacific Ocean, the Children's Pool . Please do not allow this spy cam to go back up and use the seals as an excuse to watch and follow women. I have dozens of very damaging screen shots. This is a potential pediafile situation when you have young teens bodies honed in on. Tourists have complained and been very worried about these people who also follow them and their kids around on the beach and are photo'd literally within inches of their bodies. This is very wrong. A Reldon woman does this to our guests there. Very unethical and inappropriate and it seems not-legal to me.
Thank you for your time, and if you are interested in helping this cause please contact restorechildrenspool@gmail.com />Thank you from the R.A.M. P Committee

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Avatar for user 'David Lucero'

David Lucero | August 6, 2013 at 11:16 a.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Accusing persons for looking the other way is not the direction here. Peking Duck brings up a good point. And I disagree with the statement how we have not gotten far from the Mad Men-era in regard to sexual harassment. We've made leaps and bounds.

Unfortunately, when a person in office with the power and influence Filner has had for years commits sexual harassment and intimidates others, there are some who will not want to become involved and even those harassed will refuse to come forward. In truth, it is extremely difficult to prove harassment. If the accusers had come one at a time when the events took place the focus on Filner's actions would have been side-stepped by a conference he held announcing a big move on the city agenda. Each alleged victim would be seen as an isolated incident that may or may not have happened. We've had and witnessed so many frivolous lawsuits against people that it would have been easy for Filner's team to paint accusers as rabble-rousers, or persons who would have been better off allowing Filner to accost them.

The fact they are coming together now, however ironic it seems, is the best way it could have been to bring Filner to justice. Now the alleged victims have credibility because Filner's track record is working against him. His own people have jumped ship, and most of San Diego is disgusted with him.

...All we need now is for him to resign or be removed from office. I don't care if he resigns or waits for the recall. So long as he goes the better off we will be.

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Avatar for user 'wacka_mole'

wacka_mole | August 6, 2013 at 1:04 p.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Isn't it interesting that the first male to come forward as a witness was a 23-year old office intern. What does that say about all the other men who are supposed to be the city's respected leaders in business, finance, and politics when the first one to show real courage is a college kid.

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Avatar for user 'LoriSaldana'

LoriSaldana | August 6, 2013 at 8:26 p.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Both P-Duck and David make good points: Women don't want to come forward for a variety of reasons. They may think "this is a personal issue" and don't realize other women are dealing with the same thing.

Maybe they are initially flattered by what they think is special attention, rude and clumsy as it may be. Or they may fear loss of access to the person, even if he has treated them rudely: "go along to get along" as they say.

As I talked with women two years ago, I realized all of these scenarios were at work. The women I talked to felt these were isolated events, and/or didn't want to "make a big deal" about the harassment because they wanted to maintain a business relationship with then-Rep. Filner. They didn't feel victimized, merely shocked at his actions and concerned about how inappropriate he had been.

As the number of these discussions increased I became alarmed and began connecting the dots. Looking back, it's hard to believe I was the only one who saw this pattern developing, but by the time I counted 6 women, I believed that someone needed to bring this behavior to the attention of someone Filner trusted and respected.

None of the women asked me to take the action I finally did, which was speaking to the Chairman of the local Democratic Party and encouraging him to meet privately with Filner to encourage him to change his behavior. I suggested he arrange to meet with Filner along with other elected officials to impress upon him the importance of treating women differently as he made plans to run for mayor.

When I heard back from the Party Chairman later, he told me he had met with Filner but provided no details about the meeting. (I've since learned he met with him alone.)

He reminded me that "Filner is a single man, and can go out on dates," and also assured me that Filner told him "no one has filed a complaint against me," which suggested that both men completely missed the point of what I was trying to tell them:

These were not women he was dating (though he asked several to go out with him). These were not employees in his office. These were women Filner was interacting with during meetings that had been arranged as part of his Congressional responsibilities: site visits to their workplaces, evening receptions, public appearances at ribbon cuttings etc.

Bottom line from my perspective: Filner was acting inappropriately with women in his professional capacity, and if it continued, it would be at least embarrassing if not worse, not only for him, but for his supporters.

By then (Aug 2011) I was beginning teaching at SDSU, and was also focused on my congressional campaign. I stopped talking to people about Filner's problems, but soon realized he and others were well aware that I had expressed my concerns to the County Party Chairman.

I'll write about the effects of that another time.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | August 7, 2013 at 1:18 p.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Lori Saldana,

Did you not support Filner for mayor? I noticed your name was absent from his endorsement list here: http://www.bobfilnerformayor.com/endorsements.html

I'm surprised the Chair of the SD Democratic Party continued to support him even with the concern you provided.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | August 7, 2013 at 2:07 p.m. ― 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Lori Saldana, it's really great having someone involved in politics engaging us here on these comments sections. While we can speculate about a lot of the inside goings on, you actually have first hand-insight.

I agree with many of your points above, very well written and makes sense. Most politicians wouldn't give us lowly posters on here the time of day, but your willingness to engage us directly on this hot-button issue shows a great deal about your character and that you actually listen to and care about what the public has to say. Thank you!!

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