- 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
Bob Filner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in September 1942 and grew up in New York City. His father, Joseph Filner, was a member of the Communist Party USA.
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.
Filner served on the San Diego city school board from 1979-83, and on the city council from 1987-92. In 1992 he was elected to represent the newly created 50th congressional district—a predominantly nonwhite region 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. Filner would hold this seat continuously for the next two decades.
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 February 2002 Filner was part of a delegation of California congressional Democrats who, in an effort to promote a softening of 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.
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, D.C. encampment, where he engaged in friendly discussions with 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.
Over the course of his career as a legislator, Filner believed that:
- all women should have an unrestricted right to abortion-on-demand at any stage of pregnancy – subsidized by taxpayers, in cases of economic hardship;
- public and private employers alike should be legally required to implement affirmative-action hiring and promotion policies that give preference to African Americans and women, as compensation for historical injustices;
- the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) should serve a strategic stepping stone toward the eventual implementation of a single-payer healthcare system;
- the principle of church-state separation should preclude permitting prayer in the public schools, or the posting of the Ten Commandments in public places;
- voucher programs designed to enable low-income parents to send their children to private schools constitute bad policy because they rob the public schools of vital resources;
- the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and should be abolished;
- more guns in the hands of private citizens inevitably result in higher levels of crime, thus the availability of firearms should be restricted by whatever means are effective;
- restrictions on immigration are basically racist because they tend to prevent Hispanics and other non-whites from entering the United States;
- social services should be available to all U.S. residents regardless of their immigration status;
- illegal aliens should be offered amnesty if they have been productive members of society; and
- an ever-increasing reliance on “green energy” sources such as wind and solar should be put in place, along with the phasing out of fossil fuels, the imposition of carbon taxes, and the raising of vehicle CAFE standards.
In 2012 Filner ran successfully for mayor of San Diego, defeating Republican Carl DeMaio by 5 percentage points in the general election.
While campaigning in October 2012, Filner appeared at a Planned Parenthood rally to accuse his opponent of being part of the Republican Party’s “war on women,” and to boast of his thirty-year-long “perfect record on choice [regarding abortion rights] and all those [women’s] issues.” That same year, Planned Parenthood stated: “For twenty years, Bob Filner has defended women.”
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 asked Filner to “step down immediately” from his post as mayor. But Filner refused, opting instead to undergo two weeks of psychotherapy and then return to his post. By August 21, 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.” On October 15, 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, was forced to surrender part of his government pension, and was compelled to undergo psychiatric treatment.
In early 2014, Filner was sued by anti-domestic-violence activist Marilyn McGaughy, who claimed that the mayor had “kissed, massaged, [and] groped” her at an elementary school.
In July 2017, Filner tweeted that he now had a new mission in life: “I’m helping the #Left become #progressive again!” His tweet linked to his personal web page, CongressmanBob.com, which featured an ad for Filner’s his newly published book, Trumping Trump: Making Democrats Progressive Again.
For additional information on Bob Filner, click here.
Further Reading: “Bob Filner” (Keywiki.org, Votesmart.org); Bob Filner’s Positions on Key Issues (OnTheIssues.org); “Liberalism’s War on Women” (by Daniel Greenfield, 10-20-2013, re: Filner’s 2012 appearance at Planned Parenthood rally); “Planned Parenthood Praised Sexual Harasser Bob Filner for ‘Defending Women’” (LifeNews.com, 8-13-2013); “Another Sexual Harassment Suit Filed Against Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner” (by Michelle Moons, 4-19-2014); “Disgraced Former SD Mayor ‘Helping the Left Become Progressive Again’” (by Joel Pollack, 7-16-2017).
- 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)
- “Media Bias In Two Words: Bob Filner” (Investor’s Business Daily, 8-8-2013); “Wasserman Schultz calls on San Diego mayor to resign” The Hill, 7-26-2013); “Boxer to Filner: Step Down Immediately” (Daily Caller, 8-9-2013); “18th Woman Accuses Democrat Bob Filner of Being Bob Filner” (PJ Media, 8-21-2013); “Filner resigns, council OKs exit deal” (San Diego Union-Tribune, 8-23-2013); “Ex-San Diego Mayor Filner pleads guilty to felony false imprisonment, battery” (Fox News, 10-15-2013).