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It’s bad when a tearful disabled Iraq war veteran claims that you used her injuries to make an unwanted sexual advance toward the veteran’s nurse. It’s worse when the allegation happens in a military town like San Diego. It’s worst when the accusation strikes at the heart of the best thing you’re known for during decades in elected office.
Marine veteran Katherine Ragazzino choked up during a Tuesday press conference as she recalled a June meeting with Mayor Bob Filner in his office. Ragazzino and her nurse, Michelle Tyler, alleged that Filner isolated Tyler after the meeting and repeatedly asked her on a date, implying a quid-pro-quo to help Ragazzino.
“I don’t appreciate being used as a bargaining chip to fulfill his sexual desires,” Ragazzino said of the mayor.
Those comments, far more than the ridiculous Filner’s-a-danger-to-all-women sign celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred held up during the press conference, tarnish Filner’s entire political legacy in a way no other allegation of sexual harassment has to this point.
Filner built a 20-year career in Congress on the back of his work for veterans and individual constituents. For four years, he served as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. He earned a national reputation for working to boost the VA budget and shepherding a new GI bill. Through his entire career, Filner prided himself on helping individuals break through the federal bureaucracy to get what they needed, even earning the respect of political enemies.
Now, Filner’s accused of using his elected office to take advantage of an individual Marine with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, all for the sake of trying to get a date.
Another member of the growing group of women to publicly accuse Filner of misbehavior also has strong military ties. Retired Navy Rear Adm. Ronne Froman has claimed Filner ran his finger up and down her cheek and asked if she was single following a meeting in his congressional office a couple of years ago.
Allred, Tyler’s lawyer, said she didn’t plan to file a lawsuit against Filner over the incident. Instead she planned to have Tyler and Ragazzino speak with San Diego Sheriff’s Department investigators and encouraged the city to look into what happened.
But it’s hard to imagine anything an investigation could uncover that would hurt Filner’s legacy more than the teary testimony of a wounded Marine.
Update, Aug. 7: Two victims of sexual assault in the military have come forward to CNN to allege Filner made inappropriate advances toward them at an event for female victims of military sexual assault in August. “It appears to me that he was targeting the organization and hitting on the women of this organization because they were easy prey,” one of the veterans Eldonna Fernandez said. Here’s the CNN report: