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No room for lecherous mayors

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 11:53 AM EDT, Wed July 31, 2013
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner announces last week that he will seek professional help for sexual harassment issues.
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner announces last week that he will seek professional help for sexual harassment issues.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Seven women have come forward to say San Diego mayor was sexually inappropriate
  • Ruben Navarrette: Mayor Bob Filner is going to therapy, but it's unlikely to cure longtime problem
  • Filner is being sued and wants city to pay his legal bills, he says, but that's ridiculous
  • Navarrette: What Filner really needs to do is resign, because problem is not going away

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- Welcome to America's Finest City where the beaches are pristine, the downtown is spotless, but -- if you believe the accusers -- the mayor is filthy.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department has set up a hotline for women who believe they are victims of sexual harassment by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. The city attorney's office asked its lawyers, particularly females, as far back as February not to meet with the mayor unless a witness is present. Recently, Filner was restricted from meeting with women alone at city facilities. Every few days, more women come forward to tell their stories.

Filner is taking two weeks off in August -- not for vacation, but for intensive therapy to treat what seems to be a behavioral disorder.

Secrets that women of San Diego no long keep about its mayor

Ruben Navarrette
Ruben Navarrette

Is that what they call it these days? In the 1970s, when Filner began his 20-year career as a university history professor -- after which came a stint on the San Diego City Council and another 20 years in Congress -- we might just as easily have said that he was a lech and left it at that.

Now we think everything is curable. Take a pill. Go to therapy. Attend meetings. But there might not be a cure for what ails Filner. It has afflicted the 70-year-old for too long.

Over the last few weeks, seven women have stepped forward to say that Filner said or did something inappropriate. The accusations range from crude comments to unwanted advances to bullying to the infamous "Filner headlock." Let's say it's not just a friendly hug.

In one of the latest developments in this soap opera by the sea, Filner wants the city to cover his legal expenses to fight a lawsuit filed by one of the women, Irene McCormack Jackson, who is a former employee. Jackson was the first woman to accuse Filner publicly of impropriety. Her 11-page lawsuit alleges that Filner asked her to "get naked" and to kiss him. The San Diego City Council is set to discuss Filner's request this week.

San Diego mayor to enter behavior clinic
Woman: Filner tried to kiss me
San Diego mayor: My behavior was wrong
More women accuse San Diego mayor

The council should deny the request and make Filner pay his own legal bills. He obviously has a problem, and he's admitted as much by going to therapy.

"Let me be absolutely clear," Filner said in a statement. "The behavior I have engaged in over many years is wrong. My failure to respect women, and the intimidating contact is inexcusable."

Filner must have known about his failings, while he was in Congress and before he ran for mayor. He needs to take personal responsibility and pay for his own legal defense.

Of course, what Filner really needs to do -- before the list of accusers gets any longer -- is resign.

That's what Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California says. During an appearance Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union With Candy Crowley," the senator said that Filner "lacks a moral compass" and that he should make it easier on himself, his city, and fellow Democrats by stepping down. In California Democratic circles, once you've lost Feinstein, it's game over.

For a politician, the only thing worse than being caught in a sex scandal is being caught in a sex scandal at the same time as someone else. That all but ensures extra coverage by the media, as the two of you will be paired together in the same paragraph in story after story.

Filner has company, a fellow Democrat with whom he served in Congress. New Yorkers are suffering through the "sext-capades" of Anthony Weiner. The supposedly rehabilitated amateur photographer wants to be mayor of New York, but he has fallen to fourth place among Democratic contenders in the polls since admitting he engaged in the same behavior that caused him to resign from Congress in disgrace.

As I watch the Weiner drama from afar, I can't help but think that one of the factors hurting his candidacy is that his public relations machine had gone to such great lengths to portray him as "all better" when it turns out he's not. New Yorkers don't like being played for suckers, and now Weiner is experiencing their wrath.

Filner should watch and learn. He'll be back from his two-week leave of absence soon enough. Then what?

"When I return on August 19," he told reporters, "my focus will be on making sure that I am doing right by the city in terms of being the best mayor that I can be and the best person I must be."

Is it really that easy for someone to get rid of a disorder that has plagued him for decades? I don't think so. When he returns to office, Filner might just get into more trouble with women.

And if and when that happens, he'll experience the same public backlash that Weiner has. He might not need to resign. A recall effort is already under way. And hell hath no fury like a voter who thinks he's being played for a fool.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

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