Gail Collins: If you make Weiner look good, it's time to resign
August. A dead shark was found on a New York City subway. Meanwhile, at the Iowa State Fair, vegan activists broke into a refrigerated case in the Dairy Building and threw red paint on the butter cow. In San Diego, the mayor claimed the city should pay the costs of defending him in a sexual harassment lawsuit because he had never been given sensitivity training.
I am bringing all these things up to point out that you can be selective about what you have to worry about during August. It's summertime. The living should be easy. Sometimes, if you relax, things just work themselves out. For instance, the butter cow has been cleaned up and is more popular than ever. It turns out that the shark was dead before it got on the subway.
In New York City, the problem of Anthony Weiner for mayor seems to be going away all by itself, with no effort whatsoever on our part. Weiner clocked in with an unfavorable rating of 80 percent in a recent poll, most of which was taken before he called a 69-year-old opponent "grandpa" at a forum sponsored by the AARP.
On the other hand, there's San Diego. You may remember that, in July, Mayor Bob Filner was charged with sexual harassment by some of his former supporters who claimed that, among other things, he grabbed female workers around the neck and whispered lewd comments in their ears. That was the moment when the nation first became aware of the term "Filner headlock."
Initially, the information was all secondhand, and Filner vowed "the facts will vindicate me." Even then, things looked ominous. For one thing, the facts-vindication defense had been preceded by a vow to behave differently. It was sort of like announcing that you're innocent but will definitely never do it again.
Now, one lawsuit and about a dozen public accusations later, Filner is out of sight — allegedly having gone off for two weeks of sexual-harassment-rehab that seemed to have ended early, although there was also a claim that it had started ahead of schedule.
"Nobody knows where he is!" said Steven Erie, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and an expert in the city's dysfunctional local politics.
What Filner has definitely not done is quit. In his last public statement — which came out after every single member of the City Council had called for his resignation — the mayor announced that "Now is not the time to go backward."
It is pretty much a rule that any announcement that it's not the time to go backward is a sign that things already have. Just as is having a headlock named for you when you are not a professional wrestler.
Also, the women who've stepped forward include Filner's former communications director, who's filed the lawsuit, and a nurse, who said he came onto her when she was trying to get help for a homeless ex-Marine who had been injured in Iraq.
Also, the mayor is trying to get the city to pay his mounting legal fees by arguing that San Diego is responsible for everything because Filner never received the sensitivity course required for city employees. "There is a very, very good reason for mandatory sexual harassment training; if nothing else, it makes people think about the subject and how they interact with their fellow employees," his lawyer wrote.
Filner's supporters — approximately 50 of them showed up for a recent rally — claim the mayor is still popular in poor and minority neighborhoods. He'd run against the downtown business hierarchy and progressives thought his election would be the chance to turn things around. You can understand their frustration. But part of the point of being a progressive is that there are some things you just don't tolerate, one of which is sexual harassment.
Unless Filner quits, volunteers are going to start circulating recall petitions next week. However, recalling an official in San Diego is a stupefyingly difficult process, involving a limited time span and more than 100,000 signatures of registered city voters. "This is summer — do you know how many people are out of town?" asked Erie, who envisions stacks of petitions mainly signed by "tourists who want to get in on the action."
Let us stop for a moment and give props to Anthony Weiner. For one thing, his sexting scandal did not involve allegations of forced grabbing and patting and kissing and rubbing. In the category of being thankful for small favors, we are thankful that there have been no claims that the former-congressman-turned-mayoral candidate ever did anything untoward to anyone he was in the same state with. Also, then he resigned and went away.
Of course, he did come back. But probably not for long. Although we still may have to spend September with Eliot Spitzer.