- Former Democratic member of Congress
- Former Member of the Progressive Caucus
- Active member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, the NAACP, and the Sierra Club
- Son of a Communist Party USA member
- Former mayor of San Diego
- Resigned as mayor in 2013, amid a sexual-harassment scandal
In 1961 Bob Filner spent two months in a Mississippi jail as a result of his activities as a civil-rights Freedom Rider. He earned a B.A. in chemistry in 1963 and a Ph.D. in history in 1973, both at Cornell University.1
Filner served on the San Diego city school board from 1979-83, and on the San Diego city council from 1987-92. In 1992 he was elected to represent the newly created 50th congressional district—stretching from south San Diego eastward nearly 300 miles to the Arizona border—which the Democrat-dominated state legislature had carefully gerrymandered to conjure a Democratic congressional seat out of one of the most Republican regions in California. The ethnic makeup of this district (which was renumbered as the 51st after the 2000 Census) is more than 53% Hispanic, more than 9% black, 12% Asian, and 21% white. Re-elected to this seat multiple times thereafter, Filner served in Congress until 2012.
From his earliest days in the House of Representatives, Filner was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. According to Americans for Democratic Action, he voted on the left side of legislation 95 to 100% of the time. For an overview of Filner’s voting record on a variety of key issues, click here. For Filner’s various interest-group ratings, click here.
Since at least the mid-1990s, Filner has had a close relationship with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). He has attended a number of DSA events (including its 1999 national convention in San Diego), and the organization actively supported his congressional campaigns in 2004 and 2006.
In February 2002 Filner was part of a delegation of California congressional Democrats who, in an effort to soften U.S. policy toward Cuba, paid a friendly visit to Fidel Castro in Havana. Other delegates included Sam Farr, Diane Watson, and entertainer Carole King.
On October 26, 2009, Filner spoke alongside fellow Representatives Jared Polis and Jan Schakowsky at a national conference held by J Street, an organization that urges Israel to negotiate with Hamas. In February 2010, Filner was one of five members of Congress to participate in a J Street-sponsored congressional mission that toured Israel, Jordan, and Palestinian-controlled regions.
On December 22, 2009, Filner was one of 33 U.S. Representatives who wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging her to press the Israeli government to lift its ban on Palestinian student travel between Gaza and the West Bank. Five weeks later, Filner was one of 54 members of Congress to sign a letter asking President Barack Obama to push Israel to end its Gaza blockade, which had been enacted to prevent the flow of deadly weapons into that region.
On June 8, 2011, Filner announced that he would not seek re-election to Congress in 2012, but instead would run for mayor of San Diego. He won that election over his Republican rival, city councilman Carl DeMaio, by a margin of 52.5% to 47.5%.
When the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations were first launched in the fall of 2011, Filner was initially enthusiastic about the movement, describing it as “very energetic” and “very energizing.” He made several visits to OWS’s Washington, DC encampment, where he engaged in friendly discussions with the veteran pro-Castro radical Medea Benjamin. Moreover, Filner aspired to “introduce a bill” in Congress “that [listed] all the Occupy demands [and] that we could call Occupy America.” Eventually, however, Filner became disillusioned by what he described as OWS’s obstinacy and lack of clarity.
On October 26, 2012, Filner, during his mayoral campaign, appeared at a Planned Parenthood rally to accuse his opponent of being part of the Republican Party’s “war on women.” There, he boasted of his thirty-year-long “perfect record on choice [regarding abortion rights] and all those [women’s] issues.” And he emphasized how vital it was for voters to elect candidates who have “the right goals, the right philosophy, the right background.”
On July 11, 2013, allegations began to surface that Filner had sexually harassed “numerous” women during his long tenure in political life. In response, the mayor promptly issued a video statement apologizing for his bad behavior and pledging to seek professional counseling. By early August, with new accusers continuing to come forward, a number of high-profile Democrats had asked Filner to “step down immediately” from his post as mayor. These included Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. But Filner refused, opting instead to undergo two weeks of psychotherapy and then return to his post. His reputation as “Filthy Filner” went national.
By August 21, 2013, the list of Filner’s accusers totaled 18 women. The mayor finally yielded to pressure and resigned on August 30, though he denied the charges and portrayed himself as the victim of a “lynch-mob mentality.”2
On October 15, 2013, Filner pleaded guilty to felony false imprisonment—a term that refers to restraining or otherwise detaining someone against his or her will—and two misdemeanor counts of battery. Under the plea agreement, the former mayor was sentenced to probation for three years and “home confinement” for three months. Moreover, he was barred from ever again holding public office, prohibited from voting while on probation, forced to surrender part of his government pension, and compelled to undergo psychiatric treatment.
For additional information on Bob Filner, click here.
1 From 1970-92, Filner taught history and served as director of the Lipinsky Institute for Judaic Studies at what today is San Diego State University. In 1974 he spent some time working as a legislative assistant to Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-Minnesota), and the following year he worked for U.S. Representative Don Fraser (D-Minnesota).
2 Filner’s resignation was part of a deal (approved by the San Diego city council) limiting the mayor’s legal and financial exposure vis a vis a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former aide.