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Bob Filner’s former chief of staff Lee Burdick has written a deep insider account of the nine insane months Filner was San Diego’s mayor. Here are the five of the craziest stories from the book:
You might not recall the name Benelia Santos-Hunter from the parade of Filner accusers that led to his downfall. But you can’t make it through the introduction of Burdick’s book without her story sticking in your head.
Santos-Hunter, Burdick writes, was subjected to near-daily sexual harassment and abuse from Filner. One time Filner grabbed Santos-Hunter’s hand and pulled it toward his crotch. And when she recoiled, he begged her to pull up her skirt. Another time, on Valentine’s Day, he kissed her on the lips before she could turn away. Then he locked her with him in his private office kitchen and solicited sex. That was just one of many times Filner went after Santos-Hunter for sex – including asking her to do it on the table in the mayor’s conference room and even chasing her around it. Each time she refused, pulled away and told him to stop.
Burdick says she learned the depth of Santos-Hunter’s problems with Filner from a colleague in the office while Burdick was serving as Filner’s chief of staff in the final weeks of his administration. Santos-Hunter had wanted to keep her story private, and at one point hired a lawyer to try and keep it that way. But she ultimately told her story to state investigators and later filed a lawsuit against him.
That case is scheduled to go to trial on Friday.
Burdick writes she was at a City Hall holiday party with 150 City Council and mayor’s office staffers and colleagues just days after Filner took office. Filner was unexpectedly invited to speak. Filner quickly made an awkward remark about how white all the staffers were. After that, Burdick writes:
Then he turned his attention to Council President Gloria. Initially Filner said he looked forward to working with Gloria, and the council president smiled and nodded his assent suggesting he, too, was looking forward to working with the mayor. But then the punch landed when Filner said something dismissive suggesting that no one would listen to the council president “because you’re gay.” A deathly silence fell over the room.
On the day in early August 2013 when Filner announced he was going to leave town for two weeks to go to rehab after the first cavalcade of sexual harassment allegations, Councilwoman Sherri Lightner asked to come up to his office.
Lightner, Burdick said, said she wished she didn’t have to ask Filner to resign but her constituents were demanding it.
Filner said he understood. Then he turned:
“I can’t believe this!” he said clearly frustrated. “These are women who have low self-esteem, and I just complimented them! I was trying to make them feel better about themselves!”
Remember at that point among Filner’s accusers were a retired rear admiral in the Navy and a dean at San Diego State University.
Lightner left the room with slumped shoulders, Burdick said.
About six weeks into Filner’s tenure, Burdick said she was leaving the mayor’s office around 10 p.m. at the end of a long weekend. She was waiting for the elevator and when it stopped she was surprised to see Filner walk out. Behind him, Burdick wrote, was a short, blonde woman who Burdick believed was his then-fiancée Bronwyn Ingram.
But then she realized it wasn’t.
I stepped onto the elevator and, as the doors closed, I laughed out loud at the sheer brashness of a man who thought he could bring a woman to his public office late at night and get away with it. Then my mind began to churn. What if the press found out? What if someone else saw him and leaked it? Certainly the electorate would not take kindly to using public resources (city offices, furniture, lights … ) for his sexual escapades. “He knows that, right?” I wondered. Then: “Wait a minute. I’m an employee,” I thought, “and this is my workplace, where the mayor is bringing a woman to have sex …
“Legally, does that constitute sex harassment?” I asked the empty elevator.
In early August, Burdick wrote, two Filner staffers asked if they could bring in a friend with a Homeland Security background to sweep the mayor’s office for bugs. This was the second time they’d done it.
The first time they found nothing, but this time, Burdick said they’d found evidence of bugs in the conference room, Burdick’s office and at least one other room. She said she called then-Police Chief William Lansdowne, who said he’d send someone over to look.
Here’s where things get really hairy. Burdick says Lansdowne told her he would need just $1,800 to do a thorough search of the mayor’s office, but didn’t have that kind of money in his budget – the police budget is more than $400 million. Then Burdick alleges Lansdowne told her City Attorney Jan Goldsmith was behind it. Burdick said she decided not to pursue it further.
Filner told Lisa Halverstadt in an interview published last week that he believed the office was bugged, too.
Lansdowne told us and reiterated to the Union-Tribune that SDPD did do a sweep of the office and didn’t find any bugs. He also denied telling Burdick that Goldsmith was behind it. Goldsmith, through a spokesman, vigorously denied that he was behind any bugging.
It is not crazy to think that someone might have been listening in to Filner’s office at some point. We know that Filner was under federal investigation virtually the entire time he was in office. He was a target of investigators because of his connection to Mexican businessman Susumo Azano, who was later charged with a series of campaign finance violations. In that case, federal investigators were monitoring Filner’s incoming and outgoing phone calls. Later in Filner’s tenure, the feds were also looking at him for an allegedly corrupt development deal. Filner hasn’t been criminally charged in either of those cases.
Most of Burdick’s harsh words were for Filner. But she doesn’t spare Goldsmith. The city attorney, she writes, attempted to stop Filner’s policy aims at every turn and then made a series of political calculations in trying to force Filner from office.
She wrote that Goldsmith worked on both sides of a lawsuit early in Filner’s tenure over the mayor’s authority to hold back tourism dollars from the city’s hotel industry. First, she said, Goldsmith represented the mayor, then after Filner got his own lawyers, the city attorney filed sworn testimony in support of the hoteliers’ position. She called that “one of the most remarkable ethical breaches I have ever witnessed.”
Later, as the scandal was unfolding, Burdick said Goldsmith worked to maximize Filner’s humiliation without caring for the employees in Filner’s office. Goldsmith, for instance, publicly tried to serve Filner with a subpoena even though he could have just given it to Filner’s attorneys, she wrote. And, she said, Goldsmith canceled a meeting with mayor’s office staff to discuss how he would represent them as city employees after the first claim against Filner was filed. Instead, Burdick wrote, he treated them all as potential witnesses in his bid to get the mayor.
Goldsmith and Burdick had their own deep and public disagreement over whether she was even allowed to give Filner legal advice.
“Between Filner and Goldsmith, it was toss-up (sic) as to who appalled me the most,” Burdick wrote.
Goldsmith’s political maneuverings against Filner are something that the city attorney has bragged about – he famously referred to his efforts to get Filner out of office as a “de facto impeachment.”
But Goldsmith, through spokesman Gerry Braun, disputes that the city attorney’s office broke any ethical rules. Braun said Goldsmith tried to work with Burdick, but she stymied him.
“We then directed Ms. Burdick to get out of the way, not so nicely,” Braun said. “We bypassed her, sending investigators throughout City Hall to meet with witnesses individually. Their information prompted us to take action that, ultimately, led to Filner’s resignation.”