Amid calls for them to drop out of politics, New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner—former congressional colleagues who have both been caught behaving badly around women—are standing their respective ground. Weiner released a video today saying that he wouldn’t quit the race just as a campaign spokesperson apologized for inappropriate (and sexist) remarks against a former employee. Out in California, where the number of women accusing Filner of inappropriate behavior has now reached eight, the embattled mayor is planning a leave of absence to “get intensive help” but says he will not leave his job.
Part One: Big Apple Edition
A lot has happened since I last wrote about Anthony Weiner on July 10. In that piece, I noted that the public seemed willing to forgive Weiner and other politicians despite their past sex scandals and questioned whether our instincts to forgive and re-elect sent a dangerous message to young people. At that time, Weiner was being portrayed as a family man who had messed up once but had apologized extensively to his wife and the public, and he was ahead in the polls. He seemed to be recovering nicely despite having sexted numerous women, but I had to ask whether a random high school senior would be so lucky if he were to, for example, text a picture of his penis to the captain of the school’s cheerleading squad. Of course, that was before we knew about Carlos Danger.
Last week, a gossip website revealed that Weiner had engaged in additional sexting relationships after he resigned from Congress and claimed to have gotten the help he needed. Using the eminently laughable pseudonym Carlos Danger, Weiner continued to send sexually obscene texts to young women even while he was telling the media he was a changed man and planning to ask New Yorkers for their vote.
Though this was not the first time the world had seen snapshots of his crotch, everything changed for Anthony Weiner after that. Americans love a good story of redemption, but we do not like to be made fools of, and we are not likely to forgive again. Weiner has dropped to fourth place in the race and many influencers, including the New York Times editorial board, have called on him to drop out.
More bad news for his campaign came this week when his communications director fired back at an intern, Olivia Nuzzi, for writing a “tell-all” story for the blog NSFWCORP and a follow-up in the Daily News. In truth, the stories don’t tell much except that a number of staffers would rather be working for Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, and that the candidate is really bad with names. (Some have made a lot out of the fact that he mistakenly called two female interns Monica, suggesting that it’s because of infamous White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but that seems like a stretch.) Still, in what she swears was an off-the-record conversation with a reporter from Talking Points Memo, Weiner’s communications director, Barbara Morgan, lashed out pretty hard at the intern and used really offensive language to do so.
The TPM reporter claims that Morgan went on a curse-filled rant, describing Nuzzi as a fame-hungry “bitch” who “sucked” at her job. She also threatened to sue Nuzzi and called her a “slutbag,” “twat,” and “cunt.” Morgan has since apologized, telling the Wall Street Journal, “In a moment of frustration, I used inappropriate language in what I thought was an off-the-record conversation. It was wrong and I am very sorry, which is what I said tonight when I called and emailed Olivia to apologize.”
Even if it was off-the-record, the words Morgan used are particular offensive to women and certainly not something the campaign needed to be associated with at this moment. After all, this whole thing started because her boss has boundary issues with women.
Despite all of this, Weiner released a video on Wednesday morning saying that he was not dropping out of the race. In the one-minute video, he says if someone tells something embarrassing about you, you have to talk about it for a little while, but “quit is not how we roll in New York.”
Part Two: West Coast Edition
Apparently, it’s not how they roll out in California either, because Bob Filner is holding on to his job as mayor of San Diego as tightly as he can, even as more and more allegations of inappropriate behavior come pouring in. Last week, I reported that Irene McCormack, the mayor’s former director of communications, filed a sexual harassment suit against him. The suit says that he tried to kiss her, professed his love for her, asked her to marry him, dragged her around the office in a headlock while whispering sexual advances, and suggested that she take off her panties and work without them.
At that time, a few other stories had come out alleging that Filner groped or tried to kiss other, unnamed women. Now there are more stories and more names. There’s Veronica “Ronne” Froman, the former chief operating officer for the city, who told KPBS News of an incident in which Filner blocked a doorway, ran a finger up her cheek, and asked if she had a man in her life. There’s Sharon Bernie-Cloward, the president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, who described an event in which the mayor groped her backside inappropriately while hugging her. Patti Roscoe, a businessperson, said that Filner repeatedly put her in a headlock (apparently a signature move), which made her fearful. Joyce Gattas, a dean at San Diego State University, said he made her uncomfortable with kisses on the cheek and hands on the knee.
Other incidents that occurred before he was mayor have also come to light. Morgan Rose, a psychologist for the San Diego Unified School District, told KPBS that then-Congressman Filner repeatedly tried to kiss her during a 2009 meeting on child welfare. Laura Fink, a political consultant, told the same television station that Filner had patted her butt at a campaign event in 2005.
On Monday, Linda Curtin, an administrator at San Diego City College, came forward with her story, making her the eighth woman to publicly accuse Filner of inappropriate behavior. Curtin’s story sounds similar to the others. She was at a professional event when the mayor commented on her wedding ring and then asked if she’d go out with him. “And at that point,” she explained to KPBS, “he pulled my hand closer to him and he reached over to kiss me. I turned my head at that moment, and on the side of my face, I got a very wet, saliva-filled kiss, including feeling his tongue by my cheek.”
The number of people calling for Filner to resign is growing and now includes Debbie Wasserman Shultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Two separate recall efforts are also gaining steam. And now his own city is suing him; in a closed-door session on Tuesday, the San Diego city council voted to sue the mayor for any costs incurred as a result of the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by McCormack.
Like Weiner though, Filner is not giving up. He is taking leave from August 5 until August 19 to get intensive help, and claims he will be back on the job after that.
Patterns of Behavior
The fact that the Weiner and Filner incidents are unfolding simultaneously makes for some interesting comparisons. Both men are exhibiting patterns of behavior that suggest disrespect for women, self-control issues, and enormous egos. Adele Stan pointed out in her commentary for RH Reality Check last week that Weiner’s behavior is the modern-day equivalent of a flasher. She wrote:
Really, if Anthony Weiner lived in an age before the advent of social media and smartphones, he might well be riding the subway wearing nothing but a trench coat, scanning the straphangers for the youngest, prettiest woman in the car to shock with his mighty sword.
As for Filner, even he admits that his behavior is anything but modern. In his initial apology, he said, “It’s a good thing that behavior that would have been tolerated in the past is being called out in this generation for what it is: inappropriate and wrong.” So, basically, he’s saying that he’s been treating women like this since the beginning of his career, and he just forgot to notice when it stopped being acceptable.
No woman should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances—whether they come in the form of a grabbed butt or a penis picture—and yet these two politicians seem incapable of stopping themselves. Both men claim to be getting (or have gotten) “help” for their behavior. Part of me wants to quip that such help should be pretty simple—perhaps someone shouting in their ear, “Stop it already!” There’s another part of me, however, that sees both compulsiveness and intense narcissism in their behavior and agrees that they could use professional help. (Note: I am not a trained psychologist, so my “diagnosis” should be taken for the amateur opinion that it is.)
At this point, however, I think regardless of what kind of help they get, both Weiner and Filner should get out of public office for good. They’ve exhibited ongoing patterns of bad behavior toward women, and we, the voters, can no longer choose to ignore it or forgive it.