August 14, 2013

The Rise and Fall of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner ’63 Ph.D. ’73

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San Diego wants Mayor Bob Filner (D) ’63 Ph.D. ’73 out.

Fourteen women have accused Filner of making unwanted sexual advances, including groping and derogatory comments, toward them. His entire city council has demanded he step down. Democratic and Republican San Diegans united to chant, “Bob must go!” outside City Hall on Monday.

It is a steep fall for a man who, decades earlier, served two months in jail because he joined the Freedom Riders advocating civil rights for African Americans.

“I feel embarrassed when [people] thank me for what I’ve done,” Filner, then a 19-year-old chemistry major and a member of The Cornell Daily Sun’s business board, said to The Sun in October 1961.

Filner had just come out of a 6’ by 9’, two-man jail cell in Mississippi State Penitentiary’s maximum-security unit for protesting the segregation of black and white Americans on buses. He was given the chance to enter a no contest plea and avoid having a guilty verdict tarnish his record. He rejected it.

Filner felt that backing away from the freedom rides “would be violating [his] own principles,” Sun reporter Rita M. Kissen ’64 wrote in 1961. Going to trial and facing the Jackson, Miss. police who arrested him was a matter of “moral responsibility,” Filner told Kissen.

A similar sentiment drove Filner to establish a remedial school for Ithacans while pursuing his Ph.D. at Cornell University.

Lamenting the “typical white, middle class” status quo of education in a September 1967 article, Filner told a Sun reporter “there’s no reason why high school drop-outs and graduates, as well as people who have been out of school for years, shouldn’t get the same benefits.”

Could this be the same man who stands accused of sexually harassing more than a dozen women?

Advocate. Protector. They are the last terms most San Diego residents would ascribe to Filner today.

With a sexual harassment lawsuit pending and claims rising that Filner frequently took women to a downtown hotel, prominent Democrats have added their voices to the growing mass of organizers demanding Filner step down.

“Bob, you must resign because you have betrayed the trust of the women you have victimized, the San Diegans you represent and the people you have worked with throughout your decades in public life,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) said in a public letter Friday. “Let me be clear: The latest revelations regarding your behavior toward women recovering from sexual assault — women who desperately need our help — have shaken me to my core.”

The city is not waiting for Filner’s resignation. A recall committee will begin collecting signatures Sunday to force an early election. In the meantime, restaurant chain Hooters posted signs declaring it would refuse to serve the embattled mayor, and Michael Pallamary, one of the recall organizers, told The Associated Press, “San Diegans want a mayor who doesn’t grope and demean women.”

Faced with the city’s uproar, Filner broke his silence on the recall movement late Monday. He reiterated his campaign promises of “honesty, integrity and respect” and said, “Now is not the time to go backwards.”

He made no mention of the sexual harrassment accusations.

Akane Otani is the managing editor of The Sun. You can email her at managing-editor@cornellsun.com and follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/akaneotani.

Original Author: Akane Otani