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EDITORIAL

The San Diego sex scandal

Anonymous allegations of sexual harassment against Mayor Bob Filner roil the city.

July 18, 2013|By The Times editorial board
  • Attorney Marco Gonzalez, flanked by former San Diego Councilwoman Donna Frye, left, and attorney Corey Briggs, right, details sexual misconduct accusations against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner at a news conference.
Attorney Marco Gonzalez, flanked by former San Diego Councilwoman Donna… (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated…)

Sex scandals come in all sizes and shapes. And public opinions on matters of the heart — and the libido — continue to evolve. As a result, constituents are not always sure anymore when to be blase, when to be nonplused and when to be outraged by the behavior of their elected officials. Should Bill Clinton have been hounded out of office (as he almost was) for a dalliance with a 22-year-old intern? Should John Edwards have been sidelined from politics because he fathered a child with his mistress while his wife was dying of cancer? Should Eliot Spitzer have resigned for hiring prostitutes or Anthony Weiner for sexting Twitter followers?

These are tough questions involving changing standards and squishy moral codes (as evidenced by the fact that Spitzer, Weiner and former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford are all back in the game). But here are two things that push a routine sexual indiscretion over the line into something else — sexual assault and sexual harassment: If the act in question involves harassment of a colleague or employee, or if it involves assault, then all bets are off.

Which brings us to San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, a brash former congressman who is the first Democrat in two decades to serve as the city's chief executive. In recent days he has been accused of a variety of misdeeds by employees and constituents alike, and calls for his resignation are echoing through city hall and beyond. For a while, the allegations lacked details, but it has emerged that he is accused of forcibly kissing two constituents and grabbing the buttocks and breast of a staff member. For good measure, Filner allegedly told a female staffer (in a city hall elevator, no less) that women employees would do better "if they worked without their panties on."

DISCUSSION: San Diego Mayor Bob Filner controversy

Two points about this: If Filner did what he is accused of, then this is serious stuff. Not because it's boorish and repugnant, which it is. And not because he probably can't get his job done in the midst of this circus, which is also true. But because it's sexual harassment. People in positions of power may not verbally or physically harass their employees or people seeking jobs from them. It's wrong, and it's also illegal.

But here's the second point: Did he do it? At first he admitted to having treated women on his staff poorly, while offering no specifics. But he later said he had not committed sexual harassment and would not resign. He called himself a "hugger" of both men and women.

The problem is, the allegations against him are anonymous. Until the women come forward or file a sexual harassment claim (as a lawyer has said they will), we can't know for sure what happened, and we can't confidently say that Filner should resign.

What we'd like to see is a thorough investigation. Talk to the women, get their stories; hear the mayor out as well. Are the allegations credible? Was a crime committed? Was this sexual harassment? If so, then Filner doesn't belong in office.

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