by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Bob Filner speaking at the LGBT Center, Dec. 3, 2012
Bob Filner and his fiancée, Bronwyn Ingram
Bob Filner and Ingrid Croce (Jim Croce’s widow)
Bronwyn Ingram, Bob Filner, Jess Durfee and Christine Kehoe
Bob Filner “works the crowd”
Audience listens to Bob Filner speak
Newly elected City Council President Todd Gloria
Jess Durfee, Christine Kehoe, Todd Gloria
Christine Kehoe and her wife, Julie Warren
Linda Perine and Ingrid Croce
Maureen Steiner and Mike Growe
Sister Ida Know of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
Where’s the big hair? Sue Palmer plays boogie piano
When Bob Filner, long-time Democratic Congressmember and one of the most progressive voices in the House of Representatives, took the oath of office as Mayor of San Diego December 3, he did it with a difference. Instead of the formal stage of the Civic Theatre in the City Hall complex downtown, he booked the Balboa Park Club off Presidents’ Way and held his formal inauguration ceremony in its more proletarian environs. Then he got back in touch with his political roots — his first elective office was as a member of the board of the San Diego Unified School District — and did a tour of five schools across the city. After that his inaugural co-chairs, Nancy Chase and Bob Nelson, and “co-chair for neighborhood participation” Linda Perine took Filner on a whirlwind tour of five community events in La Jolla, Mira Mesa, Hillcrest, Euclid Avenue and San Ysidro, dramatizing Filner’s campaign promise to be a mayor for all San Diego’s neighborhoods, not just downtown and the affluent communities north of Interstate 8.
Filner began his speech after the swearing-in ceremony by introducing his fiancée, Bronwyn Ingram, and promising that they would be a team in the office. He also thanked his three major opponents in the mayor’s race, including City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, who placed first in the mayoral primary in June and narrowly lost the November runoff, “for your reform efforts and being so gracious as we have a change in administrations.” But he also made it clear that he rejected DeMaio’s confrontational attitude towards city workers and their unions. After thanking the city’s chief operations officer, Jay Goldstone, he told her, “The day of vilification of your employees is over.”
Calling his inauguration “the beginning of a new day for our city,” Filner thanked the City Council and the Mayor he’s replacing, former police chief Jerry Sanders, for helping San Diego overcome its years-long budget crunch. “After a decade of crises and cutbacks, we have a chance to look towards the future,” Filner said. “I can start with a balanced budget and a bond rating. We can talk about moving forward, but I couldn’t do that without the stability you have given us.” Filner acknowledged the city may still face financial challenges, including the end of the state’s redevelopment program and a bill passed in the state legislature denying construction aid money to cities that outlaw project-labor agreements (PLA’s) that protect local jobs, wages and union representation in the city’s construction projects.
San Diego voters passed a ban on PLA’s last June and also approved Proposition B, which ends guaranteed pensions for new city employees and replaces them with a 401(k)-type system. Filner’s main opponent, DeMaio, pushed Proposition B, former mayor Sanders signed on to it and all the major mayoral candidates except Filner (DeMaio, former Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher and San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis) supported it. Filner pledged to implement Proposition B but “to do it in an environment that respects and honors the hard work of our city employees, who are on the front lines. They keep us safe, they pick up our trash, they maintain our parks, they answer our 911 calls, they keep our libraries open. Thank you, city employees.”
Pledging “transparency” in city government, Filner said, “The real heart and soul of our city is its neighborhoods. They define our residents’ character and quality of life. As I traveled across the city during the long mayoral campaign, residents expressed near-unanimous frustration with the city’s neglect of the facilities and services that they depend on. To me it’s unacceptable, in what we call ‘America’s Finest City,’ that some neighborhoods still lack some basics like paved streets and streetlights. It’s unacceptable that some neighborhoods devastated by the wildfires in 2003 and 2007 still lack adequate fire facilities and equipment, and a lot of times we can’t even meet federal standards for emergency response times. It’s unacceptable that a police department that already has one of the state’s lowest ratios of officers to residents is still over 200 officers short of our budgeted staffing level, and we lack the resources right now to restore community-oriented policing.”
Filner mentioned other areas in which the city falls short of what it should be doing, including the closing of neighborhood libraries evenings and weekends; the closing of lifeguard towers and community restrooms during off-hours; and the city’s failure to equip first responders with the vehicles they need. “We’re going to complete the updates of our community plans, protect urban open spaces, reduce storm water pollution and make sure our neighborhoods are pedestrian- and bike-friendly,” he said. “We’re going to work with labor unions, working people and businesses to streamline our regulatory processes. We’re going to encourage partnerships between businesses and school districts. … We’re going to build on the innovations of companies like Qualcomm, push the initiative to install solar panels on city buildings and push for more maritime uses for the port.”
Other pledges Filner made in his opening speech were more problematic for the progressives in the audience, including campaign volunteers who helped to elect him. He pledged his support for expanding the San Diego Convention Center and “keeping the Chargers in San Diego” — even though that may not be possible unless the cash-strapped city gives a major public subsidy to a stadium project. He also committed to “a great celebration of Balboa Park’s 100th anniversary,” but said, “I want my tenure as Mayor to be remembered by how it makes its decisions. I want an administration where everyone is at the table, and the only prerequisite for participation is your love for the city and your interest in improving it. I understand the difference between being a legislator and being Mayor, but I still have things I feel passionately about.”
Filner closed his inaugural speech by quoting Robert F. Kennedy’s famous lines about how some people see things as they are and ask why, while others see things as they might be and ask why not. “Why not get serious about eliminating homelessness?” he said. “Why not make the combined San Diego-Tijuana region an incubator for an innovative new economy? Why not protect our beaches and ensure that every neighborhood is a safe place to work and play in?”
Filner Visits the Queer Community
Filner’s post-inaugural whirlwind tour of San Diego took him to five evening events, including one at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center in Hillcrest. He was introduced by openly Queer City Councilmember Todd Gloria, who had an announcement of his own: that day the San Diego City Council elected him as its president, the first time an openly Queer member of the Council has filled that position. “Bob Filner made it clear that he was running to protect neighborhoods, and I intend to help him,” Gloria said.
Veteran Queer community activist and city commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez also was prominently featured at the Center event. He thanked Filner for attending the Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual commemoration in November of Transgender people who have been killed over their gender identity, and the lighting of the memorial tree on World AIDS Day December 1. Murray Ramirez announced that December 3 is his birthday and said Filner’s inauguration was the best birthday present he’d ever had.
Referencing his entry into activism 50 years ago, when he rode on one of the Freedom Rides protesting racial segregation on interstate bus lines and spent two months in a Mississippi jail, Filner said, “The previous Mayor [Sanders] was a police chief. I started my political career in jail. I think that’s an improvement.” He said that the way he’d scheduled his first day as Mayor — first visiting schools and then participating in events all around the city — showed that “we’re going to live in the neighborhoods” during his time as Mayor.
The celebration at the Center was full of ironies. Two of Filner’s election opponents, DeMaio and Dumanis, are openly Queer, but DeMaio was endorsed by Right-wing Republicans with strongly held anti-Queer positions, including hotel owner and publisher Doug Manchester, attorney and activist Charles LiMandri, and talk-show host and former Mayor Roger Hedgecock. DeMaio got the endorsement of the San Diego Republican Central Committee, largely by attacking opponent Nathan Fletcher for his vote for a bill to require public schools to teach the history and achievements of prominent Queers. He was raked over the coals about this at a forum for the primary candidates at the Center, and anti-DeMaio activists posted a clip of the event on YouTube.
Manchester’s U-T San Diego — formerly the Union-Tribune until Manchester ordered its name changed, possibly because Manchester, a ferocious opponent of organized labor, didn’t want anything he owned to have the name “union” in it — strongly endorsed DeMaio. So did Gay San Diego, owned by DeMaio’s partner Johnathan Hale, which refused an ad from the San Diego Democrats for Equality because it listed Filner as one of its endorsed candidates. Ironically, when DeMaio filled out the questionnaire from U-T San Diego, he listed his marital status as “single.” Later, after community activists launched a campaign to boo DeMaio as he and Hale appeared in the LGBT Pride Parade, Hale published an “open letter” to the community saying that the people in the Queer community targeting DeMaio “are putting their allegiance to labor union politics above what is right for the LGBT community and our efforts to achieve full equality.”
With a lot of people in the room being Queer activists who campaigned for him against an openly Queer opponent, Filner told the crowd at the Center, “You’ve helped us in the election and you’re going to see some new faces at City Hall. There might even be a Gay face or two to make sure this city is open to everybody” — an odd statement to make in a city which has had at least one openly Queer person on the City Council since 1993 and where two Queer long-time city commissioners, Murray Ramirez and Al Best (whom Gloria acknowledged as the very first openly Queer person to run for the City Council), were in the audience.
“It’s going to be harder to govern than it was to win an election,” Filner said, repeating a warning he’d given at the San Diego Democrats for Equality’s Freedom Awards November 17. “We’re going to blaze a new path. When people may need to be educated, we’ve got to go door-to-door, we’re going to have to campaign. All the things we had to do to get elected, we need to do now to build community support and make sure we’re doing what people want. We need your help and participation.”