AFT Guild Statement regarding Mayor Filner

It is with great sadness that we begin a new academic year with the horrible news that not only has a mayor we supported disgraced his office with his unacceptable behavior towards women, but also that one of his victims is a co-worker, City College’s Dr. Lisa Curtin. We commend her courage in coming forward. At the same time, we urge government officials, attorneys for the various parties, the press, and the general public to treat Dr. Curtin—and all the other women who have made allegations about the mayor’s behavior—with the dignity and respect they deserve in their upcoming legal struggles.

Whatever the end result of the Filner sexual harassment scandal, it’s clear that even if the mayor survives the legal challenges, he has admitted to behavior that is unacceptable in any workplace. His credibility and ability to move a bold populist agenda has been fatally damaged. San Diego’s first truly progressive mayor has squandered the opportunity to be a transformative figure, the progressive fighter and game changer we had hoped he would be. Worst of all by engaging in abusive behavior towards women, Filner has betrayed the core principles of any progressive politics by failing to respect the civil rights and humanity of women. We don’t need to hear all of the details to know that this is true–he has admitted as much himself.

In addition to the women victimized by Filner’s behavior, the losers in all of this are the people who had never before had a real champion in the mayor’s office—taxi drivers, hotel workers, and the working poor struggling for a living wage; the homeless and forgotten; and the residents of neglected neighborhoods where many of our students live and all of us who never thought we would see a mayor who would challenge the shadow government of private interests that has run this city for its entire history. Of course, San Diego’s power elite hates Filner and was out for blood from the beginning, so his reckless behavior in his workplace is not just morally wrong but criminally stupid.

Despite our grave disappointment and anger over Filner’s behavior, on principle as unionists we believe in due process, both for the women making the charges in the legal arena and for the mayor. This position does not mean that we excuse or minimize sexual harassment and/or support the mayor. It simply means we support the process as we do in our own union for our own members, some of whom, in years past, have been accused of far worse behaviors. We realize this is not a politically popular position at present, but if we abandon it for political expediency, we surrender a core principle. Even scoundrels deserve due process and trial by press conference does not suffice.

It might be easier for all of us–the mayor’s constituents, those who had been friends, not to mention his family–if the mayor resigned and underwent bona-fide intensive treatment, while resolving legal questions his behavior has raised, but that’s not what’s happening presently. As of this writing, it is clear that the mayor has chosen not to resign despite losing most of his base and that it will likely take either a difficult successful recall election or felony conviction to remove him from office.

Thus we may be in for a long civic drama. This will certainly become a classic lesson about the abuse of power by men in positions of authority. However, we should not despair and abandon all hope that there will ever be another future progressive champion for San Diego’s working class. We hope that voters do not conclude that all Democrats or progressives are cut from the same cloth as Filner.

Filner’s election was a reflection of the strong and growing base for a bold populist agenda in San Diego. There will be those who say that Filner has hurt the opportunities for future progressive candidates. We don’t think so. This unfortunate circumstance may even have the positive effect of helping us find even stronger candidates. The hunger our constituents have for a living wage, a greener SD, immigrant and woman’s rights reforms, etc., have not been abated by virtue of Filner’s inappropriate actions.

Our hopes for change sooner rather than later may have been temporarily sidelined. But they have not been derailed and this does not change the fact that San Diego has a strong and growing progressive base that we need to continue to lead. We need to remind our friends, neighbors, and family members to fight against the temptation to capitulate to the cynicism that some will try to foster as a result of this singular episode.