Jennifer Thomas is a bestselling author, psychologist, speaker, consultant & apology critic

Mayor Bob Filner Steals the Spotlight From Anthony Weiner

Bob Filner, Mayor of San Diego


Who could possibly pull the media spotlight away from Let-Us-Deal-With-This-Privately-Anthony-Weiner who is running for Mayor of New York City? It’s the self-destructing sitting mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner.

Seven women have come forward accusing San Diego Mayor Bob Filner of what has been described as “truly reprehensible” behavior including groping and sexually charged remarks.

Mayor Filner said Friday he will undergo “intensive therapy” amid growing calls that he resign because of sexual harassment charges from several women, including former staffers. Filner said he will check into a “behavior counseling clinic” on Aug. 5 for two weeks of therapy and return full-time to his job on Aug. 19.

I analyze public apologies based on lessons drawn from my 2013 book with Gary Chapman, “When Sorry Isn’t Enough.” Here is a numbered list of our apology languages:

1. Expressing regret- Saying “I’m sorry for the hurt I’ve caused”

2. Accepting responsibility- Saying “I was wrong.”

3. Making restitution- Asking, “What can I do to make things right?

4. Genuinely repenting- Stating how you will change so you will not do it again.

5. Requesting forgiveness- Asking, “Will you please forgive me?”

Selected Comments Made by Mayor Filner:

“Beginning on August 5, I will be entering a behavior counseling clinic for two weeks of intensive therapy to begin the process of addressing my behavior.

Saying he had apologized to his staff, the citizens, and the “women I have offended,” the mayor said, “It is simply not acceptable to explain away my conduct as the product of the standards of a different generation.”

Filner said this about his return to work: “My focus will be on making sure I am doing right by this city by being the best mayor I can be and being the best person I must be.”

“I am responsible for my conduct… This intensive counseling will just be the first step … I must become a better person. My hope is by becoming a better person, I can put myself in the position to someday be forgiven.”

My Reaction:

First, exactly how has Filner apologized to his staff, the citizens, and the women he has offended? Has he fully admitted responsibility? Are there more victims who will be coming out of the woodwork? As a therapist who deals with sexual abuse issues, my heart goes out to all victims of sexual harassment- those who have come forward and those who suffer in silence.

Second, Filner should not have tied his counseling to the strategy of putting himself in the position to someday be forgiven. While this statement may have come from his sincere remorse, it sounds like a snippet from a political strategy, reputation-rescuing committee meeting.

Third, I want to speak to readers who are regular citizens, not politicians. If you ever find yourself having a Bob Filner week or an Anthony Weiner year, fess up and fix it. Ideally, don’t violate important values in the first place. Try to be like Jay Leno, who wrote this in Katie Couric’s book, “The Best Advice I Ever Got”: “Don’t embarrass your wife. I realized that I spent the first half of my life trying not to embarrass my mother and the second half trying not to embarrass my wife and it’s worked out pretty well.” If you are caught in the wrong, don’t keep doing it. Make a full admission, get help, make amends, and life your life in such a way that will be able to restore the trust you have trashed.

P.S. What you haven’t heard before about Mayor Filner, a complex, polarizing figure:

  • He is “Dr. Filner.” The Mayor graduated from Cornell in 1963 with a degree in chemistry, and earned his doctorate in the history of science from Cornell six years later.
  • In June 1961, after pulling into the bus station in Jackson, Mississippi as a Freedom Rider, Filner was arrested for “disturbing the peace and inciting a riot.”

Update on 7/30/2013: San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is asking the city to pay his legal fees stemming from a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former aide. #really?

Update on 8/23/2013: Published reports say San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has signed a resignation letter.

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