On Aug. 30, 2013, at precisely 5 p.m., San Diego Mayor Bob Filner resigned from office amid an infamous sexual harassment scandal. Five minutes later, I was fired. As Filner’s chief of staff, I was terminated along with three other top senior advisers. My only transgression was serving in a doomed political administration.
I’m not naive. I understand that when a chief executive, or even an NFL coach, is let go for cause, his or her senior advisers often follow. So I had no expectation that I would be kept on the city payroll after the mayor was forced from office. However, what followed my firing – prolonged unemployment after a successful legal and public policy career, abandoned by people who I thought were friends, financial devastation – was completely unexpected. I became a pariah in a community I had served with dedication and integrity for a decade before I met, let alone associated with, a man who would be my downfall. In the aftermath of the Filner debacle, none of that seemed to matter.
Have no doubt that Bob Filner at 71 with 30-plus-years in public service was an abrasive, narcissistic personality who offended virtually everyone at one time or another. Although many people (I was not one of them) apparently knew about Filner’s sexual proclivities before he was elected, it was revealed publicly only after his election that he often used his political visibility and power to try to attract women for romantic and sexual trysts. In his efforts to “hook-up,” he was sloppy, insensitive and often juvenile. On many occasions, he overstepped the bounds of propriety and committed acts so unfathomably offensive that it was difficult to see how he could have gotten so far in public life.
For instance, Irene McCormack Jackson, who served as Filner’s communications director, said that he grabbed her around the neck and pulled her close to him; trapped her in her office and begged her to marry him; and suggested that she come to work wearing no panties, among other offenses. Two black women veterans said they met Filner at a dinner dedicated to eliminating sexual violence in the military, where he stroked one woman’s back and asked her tell him about her rape while she was in the service. And there was 67-year-old grandmother Peggy Shannon, who has since passed away and who claimed that Filner kissed her hands and asked her if she thought he “could go all night … ”
How was he elected mayor of the eighth largest city in the U.S. when he was such an obvious ass for so many years? The answer is, well, complicated.
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Welcome to Nüremberg, Lee. The same thing happened to me at UCSD -- my boss there hired guys just to sleep with them, even broke up one family, and when her abuses came to light they promoted her and fired the men. We might call it the survival of the most immoral.
I got to know Lee Burdick when she was one of the city's three representatives on the San Diego Unified Port Board of Commissioners. She is the most honest and publically minded individuals I've met in my 40 + years dealing with local politicians.
She could have comfortably remained on the Port board when Bob Filner was elected, but her sense of public service led her to accept a position with his administration. I was saddened when his own individual personal failings dragged down his entire
administration, including Ms. Burdick. If there is anyone who did not deserve what happened to her, it is Lee. As a Port Commissioner, she attended public outreach meetings and listened carefully to every word members of the public spoke,
and did her best to represent the public during her tenure on the board. If Mayor Filner's administration hadn't self destructed, I suspect she would have done the same thing as his chief of staff. I am sure Lee will land on her feet; if it's in San Diego, the city will be lucky to have her.
Props to Lee Burdick for being a strong, smart woman who fought the good fight. Strong women who speak up tend to get bashed in our society. Ms. Burdick is right about future democratic leadership in the city. As long as the Democratic Party leadership decides people like Bob Filner should be our mayor, despite knowledge of his assholiness, we will never make progress.
People told party leaders what Filner was like, and they were summarily dismissed. They were told, "too bad, he's going to be our next mayor."
I wish Lee Burdick much success with her book and I hope this will lead to steady employment.
From what I understand Ms. Burdick was aiding and abetting a crime by remaining silent or even expediting his actions. If true, is this not a punishable crime?
Well, I don't have any employment opportunities to offer Ms.Burdick, but I can't imagine why someone on the city council or even the mayor's office wouldn't be interested in a person of her background. My recollection is that she performed very well at crunch time.
Failing that, I'd suggest a relocation to San Francisco or maybe Sacramento. Job prospects in both places seem better, and the political climate is definitely more suited to her orientation.
I wish her the best of luck, and I may even get her book as a reminder of Filner's toxic performance which he now seems to deny. Can't say I'm surprised.
Lee Burdick said " there are still men – and women – who abuse their power to satiate their most primitive desires. Pariah or not, I will continue to fight for an agenda that values people above all else."
May I respectfully suggest that she begin with the abusers still employed by the SDPD.
Lee, thank you for your service. I'm sure you didn't sign up to be an enabler for this putz's gropings.
Yes, those of us who don't know anything about you may wonder if you were part of the concealment efforts. That is a tough legacy to combat. And frankly, having most people who do know you turn their back on you adds to my suspicion that you might have been more complicit than you like to think. Clearly Filner is a piece of work; but equally clearly too many people kept silent for too long.
On the other hand, the agenda you describe is long overdue and tremendously appealing and I can fully appreciate the strong draw it would have on someone like you who could make a difference in advancing those causes. Let's hope your book can start a conversation that separates the villains from the public servants. If you are the latter, I hope it quickly emerges and you can get the opportunities you deserve. If you are the former, it still seems unfair that you are punished much more than Filner. Maybe your former friends should consider forgiveness and second chances.
@Gregory Hay When you examine the early history of our country, say, the period between the revolution and the civil war, it confirms your suspicions about the historical nastiness of U.S. politics. What I think has changed is the willingness of the public to believe virtually any lie about a candidate they don’t support.
The “birther” nonsense about Obama has persisted for years, but it was spread by bloggers. My favorite recent example is the story Harry Reid simply made up about Mitt Romney not paying income taxes for 12 years, and pronounced on the senate floor. He then challenged Romney to prove he HAD paid them, as though his accusation automatically required Romney to refute it.
When jumped about it after Obama was reelected, Senator Reid simply said “Romney didn't win, did he?” and smiled. This is the (now former) Senate majority leader! Pretty vile, all right.