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After a few painful misfires, Mayor Bob Filner and his remaining supporters have settled on a single public relations message to counter disturbing allegations of sexual harassment and/or sexual battery.
The message: Filner deserves “due process.”
It’s now the Facebook page some supporters are rallying behind. It’s the primary message of an afternoon news conference they held Thursday and an email campaign that began last week.
It’s clever. Due process is something we treasure. It’s in the Constitution. If we’re accused of a crime, the state cannot take our life, our stuff or our freedom without giving us a chance to clearly confront all the accusations against us and force the accusers to make their case beyond doubt.
But the idea that Filner is not getting due process is ludicrous. He’s still mayor. He’s not in jail. The state has not arrested him or even searched him.
There is no indication that the state has threatened his rights to due process.
What supporters of Filner are saying, however, is that merely asking him to resign is itself a violation of his rights to due process.
Former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, not a huge ally of Filner’s in the past, has emerged as a champion of the argument that he should be given due process.
On 10News she said: “Until an employee is willing to come forward, these attorneys are drumming up a lot of anger, a lot of emotion, but they’re not presenting the evidence that would be needed for either a civil or a criminal conviction.”
On the Facebook wall of a group formed to support women politicians called Run Women Run, Saldaña elaborated: “It is completely inexcusable to treat women the way he has reportedly done. It is equally inexcusable to call on someone to resign from office when no legal evidence has been presented to back these claims.”
I don’t understand this. Asking the mayor to resign is equally inexcusable to telling employees that they would do their jobs better without panties on?
Jane Reldan, a member of Voice of San Diego and someone I’ve enjoyed talking to for a few years now, wrote me this: “Trial by press conferences, with unnamed accusers, followed by the sentence meted out immediately and clamored for in public opinion polls is not consistent with the American system of justice, which applies to every American.”
But people don’t need a criminal conviction to justify a request that the mayor resign.
If Filner were to one day say he did not fully respect Latinos or disabled people, some folks would call for him to resign.
That’s their right. They can make those calls based on the mayor’s own words. They don’t need a criminal conviction. They don’t need a hearing. They don’t need due process. They don’t need anything. It’s a decision they make to say whatever they want.
And here’s the kicker: Filner doesn’t have to listen to them. And he is not listening to them.
This isn’t a question of due process. The question of whether Filner should be asked to resign is a question of politics, civic culture and basic safety. It’s a question many individuals are taking up.
If you believe Donna Frye, after all, then Filner should not be allowed to remain in the best office in City Hall. In fact, if you believe Frye and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, he probably shouldn’t be allowed to be alone with any woman at all in any professional capacity – at least until we know for sure we can trust him.
Frye and Gonzalez and many others now see this as a safety issue. To them, asking Filner to resign is the only way to get him out of power as fast as possible so that he is no longer a threat to people.
Filner himself has hardly put these concerns to rest. He says he doesn’t “believe” he’ll be found guilty of sexual harassment.
When asked whether this was just a political maneuver by Frye and others, Filner told Univision something rather shocking: “I brought this on through my own personal frailties. The biggest monster is inside of me, which we will deal with.”
This monster, who doesn’t “fully respect” women, is what concerns the people calling for his resignation.
Even if they’re not worried about imminent danger to women, they might think someone who says he does not fully respect women is not in a position to lead them.
If supporters of Filner do not share this concern, and if they trust him and want him to continue leading the city, they have an option at their disposal: They can ask him to stay.
Filner is the only one who can decide whether he will resign. The power is all his. No matter how many people come forward, no matter how many people say he’s unfit to be the chief executive of this employer of 10,000 people, he can stay if he wants.
That’s not due process. That’s something much more powerful: free will.
Update: Some folks rightly took issue with my claim that due process meant we couldn’t lose life, liberty or property without “a chance to prove our innocence” and I updated that passage to reflect that the burden of proof is on the accusers and prosecutors in a criminal case.