San Diego’s long, embarrassing nightmare will soon be over. Its first-term mayor, Bob Filner, who has been accused of just about every form of sexual harassment you can imagine, announced his resignation last week. Friday, Aug. 30, is his last day.
Filner, 70, who continues to insist he’s innocent, despite numerous women who have come forward with ugly stories about his advances, called his resignation “the toughest decision of my life.” He apologized to the people of San Diego and claimed he never intended to offend or violate anyone.
But those words run counter to the allegations he faces. More than a dozen women have accused him of unwanted advances, including groping, kissing and making demeaning comments.
One woman, Filner’s former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, is suing him, claiming the mayor, among many things, put her in a headlock and suggested she come to work without her underwear on.
“His behavior made me feel ashamed, frightened and violated,” McCormack Jackson said when she came forward with her allegations.
The complaints against Filner were so numerous that the Sheriff’s Department set up a hotline to field them.
It’s a sad end to a successful political career. A former history professor at San Diego State University, Filner was first elected to the San Diego United Board of Education. He then moved on to the San Diego City Council, and then to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served form 1993 to 2012, when he was elected mayor.
That’s an impressive bio.
What you may not know about Filner, though, is that the departing mayor is a native of Jewish Pittsburgh. He grew up in Squirrel Hill.
We bring up Filner’s connection to the city, and to the Jewish community, for two reasons:
First, because it’s news, pure and simple. Had Filner done something laudable — had these sexual harassment allegations not been raised — his connection to the community would probably be embraced.
Second, Filner’s alleged actions present us the opportunity to segue into a subject we don’t normally tackle here: sexual harassment. Women continue to grapple with this serious and demeaning scourge, and while there is reason to believe the nation is making headway against it, the problem is still very much with us.
Here’s the good news: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that sexual harassment claims — some filed by men, but mostly by women — have been declining for more than a decade, from 15,889 in 1997 to 11,364 in 2011.
But those numbers still don’t reflect women who keep silent about sexual harassment. According to the National Women’s Law Center, many women still choose not to report harassment for fear of losing their jobs, stalling their careers or facing superiors and colleagues who won’t believe them.
If the Filner case teaches a lesson, it’s that sexual harassment can happen in the home, place of worship or workplace — any workplace — be it a store, an office or the corridors of power. Women may be bolder about coming forward with their complaints, but the problem persists. We must be just as persistent in stamping it out.