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Some soul-searching questions for Mayor Bob Filner

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO — When San Diego Mayor Bob Filner checks into a behavioral modification treatment center to deal with what he has described as his “problem” and his “intimidating” conduct toward women, I hope he will use the two-week period of retreat from the glare of media  headlines, late-night comedians’ jibes, and constant calls by politicians for his resignation, to reflect deeply on his life and the values that he and his family treasure, and ask himself over and over again, “What is the right thing to do?”

Unlike some of his political critics–who seem to be panting for the opportunity to advance their own careers — I do not believe we, the public, should come to an instant judgment. We shouldn’t subscribe to any self-serving, pre-packaged advice for him.  Instead, I believe that we, as a society, will benefit, and so will Mayor Filner, if he will pose to himself a series of soul-searching questions, and reach down deep within himself to try to answer them.  I don’t know if two weeks will be enough for the mayor to answer the questions, or even to properly frame them, but at least he can make a start.

Here are the questions that I hope the mayor will ask himself.

1)  Did the events described by seven women to date in interviews and news conferences occur as described?

2) If yes, what can I do to make matters right?

3) If no, are the differences in my recollection and theirs substantial?    If they are, what should I do?  Even if the differences are substantial, have I still been in the wrong?  If so, what do I need to do to make matters right?

4)  If, on the other hand, I sincerely believe matters were not as described, or substantially as described, how should I respond?

5)  Am I guilty of sexual harassment?  If not, what am I guilty of?

6) My entire public career–the bills I’ve introduced, the votes I’ve cast– has been one of trying to do right, to bring about improvements in society, and yet in private, by my own admission, I have done wrong. What accounts for the differences between my public  ideals and my private behavior?  How can I become in private the same idealist that I have tried to be in public?

7)  I’ve been married twice, and recently my engagement to be married for a third time has been broken off by my fiancée.  In what kind of pattern do I find my life?  What drove me to behave the way I have towards women for whom I have had the greatest affection?

8) Other women have been describing me as aggressive, hostile, lecherous.  Am I?  If so, why am I like that?  What can I do to sincerely change?  How can I really become a better person?

9)  As I wrestle my demons, should I resign as mayor as so many others have been suggesting?

10)  Or can I compartmentalize myself, giving full focus to the city’s issues and problems on the one hand, and then, on my own time, continuing to go through the self-analysis, and therapy, that may be needed?

11)  If I try to compartmentalize myself, and sincerely work on my problem, will it matter to my opponents and former political allies who now have demanded my resignation?  Are they all too committed to my political demise to be able, psychologically and politically, to work harmoniously?  Has this situation spun so far out of control, it can no longer be remedied?  Will the city suffer by this emotional gridlock?

12)  On the other hand, what will happen to the city if I resign?  Is there someone who can step in and advocate for the policies in which I believe?  Is there anyone of the many would-be candidates clamoring for my job who really cares about the underclasses in our society?   Or by surrendering the office, will I give it back to the same political forces that have been running the city up to the time of my election?

13)  After all the good I have done in the political world, why has my support melted away so quickly?  Are character issues –on which I now see I clearly have fallen short — more important than policy issues?

14)  If, indeed, character, in the long run, is the most important element of public and private life, how can I, from this point on, truly internalize it?  How can some good be derived from this whole sordid episode?  By quitting as mayor, do I send a message to our youth that we must take responsibility for our missteps?   Or by staying in, and each day trying to rebuild a coalition for progressive politics, do I teach that we need to stick to our principles, in the face of excruciating, humiliating adversity?

15)  After all that I’ve done in politics, will this be my legacy?  Or can I still find a way to improve on it, either as mayor or as a private citizen?

16)  I feel so alone now.  My fiancee has left me.  My chief of staff has left me.  People who have been my allies throughout my career have left me.  My behavior drove them away.  To whom can I turn?  Is this clinic ultimately the right answer?   Are there rabbis, or other spiritual counselors, who can help me as I wrestle with myself?

17)  I’ve always believed in the Jewish concept of ‘tikkun olam’ — repair of the world — that it is our obligation as human beings to make the world a better place than it was before we entered it.  What can I do in the years remaining to me to carry out such a mandate?

18) I am in the spotlight, and I will remain in the spotlight.  Whatever I do will be commented upon, not only in San Diego, but across the nation.  What can I do, what should I do, ultimately to be a force for good?

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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8 Responses to “Some soul-searching questions for Mayor Bob Filner”

  1. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman says:

    I don’t know if Bob Filner can hear your distinctly Jewish message about reflection on personal strengths and shortcomings and the mandate to be a force for good in the world, but I hope he can and will take comfort from it. You have done a mitzvah here. Thank you.

    Personally, I hope he will be able to reform and carry on his work as Mayor of San Diego.

    Frances O’Neill Zimmerman

    • Barbara (bonnie) Bekken says:

      Donald Harrison, your thoughtful suggestions for Mayor Filner remind me that wiser ways of living our lives always are available. I am convinced that Bob Filner knows this. Don’t we all, when we look deep into ourselves and own who we are? Our mayor has said he will pursue corrections in his life. In the meantime, his has been a life professionally dedicated to doing, simply, the best he could for the people whose trust he has been given through their election and support. Your speaking out is much cherished by me.
      With gratitude for your voice, and do continue to speak,
      Bonnie Bekken

  2. Lori Saldaña says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful analysis that takes Filner’s personal as well as political challenges into account.

  3. Myron Shelley says:

    If Filner were to take to heart all of your questions and points of view, it would surely take much longer than two weeks for him to absorb the wisdom of their meaning. I voted for him, knowing that based on past performance, we would have a “loose cannon on deck” but he looked better to me than his opponent. Noow that he has betrayed us, I cannot understand the logic that indicates we should have to suffer through his moral rebirth. He should go.

  4. What Don Harrison lays out here is a prescription for ilife, not two weeks.
    I would disagree with you that Filner is a “loose canon” ‘and I cannot imagine anyone voting for someone based on such a pejorative description. Filner is the Mayor of San Diego and will continue his work on behalf of the people of this city.
    He needs to modify his behavior with women, and I am confident he will do this.
    His moral compass when it comes to government and politics is set on True North.

  5. Robin Rivet says:

    Despite my Quakerly roots strongly pressing for tolerance and forgiveness, I doubt he can govern successfully after polarizing more than half the electorate, let alone implement his treasured policies and laudable aspirations for the City of San Diego (which sadly and badly do need a kick in the pants). For the good of the city he needs to gracefully and humbly step down, apologize deeply, but throw his support to someone who can carry his torch forward, and who is also electable. My voice says Christine Kehoe is the woman to do this if she is willing- and I’d bet she is. Too bad a strong mayor can’t appoint a deputy mayor and step down, but that sounds rather undemocratic. I cannot imagine his pain right now, and many would think it deserved, but I do not agree. No full life deserves to wind down with such humiliation, and without a means of redemption; but the political arena is not the place. I hope somewhere he eventually finds a secluded home with a compassionate woman who will assuage his grief, as I believe that his very vulnerability – is the only thing that might salvage what’s left of the man.

  6. Travis Fields says:

    That’s a very thoughtful article. However, suggesting Filner could or should remain on as Mayor also means suggesting sexual harassment should not be grounds for dismissal. Any other City employee would be fired for this sort of behavior: Filner should resign. (I voted for him btw).


  1. […] article by Donald Harrison in San Diego Jewish World covers the kind of approach that might influence the mayor.  The trolls in the twitterverse and […]

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