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Filner dominates San Diego news in 2013

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - For the city of San Diego, 2013 was almost all about Bob Filner, from the political struggles that marked the beginning of a mayoral administration to the misdeeds that cut the term short.

In a year in which San Diego returned to the national and international spotlight for poor governance, Bob Filner became a lightning rod for controversy, a magnet for criticism, a frequent hashtag for sarcastic tweets and the butt of late-night television jokes.

"Who is mayor matters," Todd Gloria said at a recent news conference. Gloria was City Council president while Filner was in office. He became interim mayor after Filner stepped down Aug. 30.

Filner was barely one month into his term when he clashed with Gloria at a public meeting over nominations of City Council members to various San Diego Association of Governments committees.

After an exchange of harsh words, the two officials met privately and eventually came up with a joint slate of nominees.

The two fought again over appointees to the Port of San Diego Board of Commissioners and Filner's refusal to release money to the city's Tourism Marketing District, which promotes the region as a vacation destination.

While Filner found plenty of allies in his political battles -- the City Council upheld a couple of his vetoes -- other troubles were brewing. Before a series of women began accusing Filner of sexual harassment, questions were raised over several of his actions.

Perhaps the biggest was his veto of reduced setbacks at an apartment complex in Kearny Mesa so the developer could squeeze in a park. But Filner's chief of staff, Vince Hall, later invited City Council members to override the veto.

It was eventually revealed that the developer had donated $100,000 to the city to fund a couple of Filner's pet projects.

Though the city returned the money, the incident was reportedly investigated by the FBI. The results of the investigation have not been revealed.

Questions were also raised over a June trip to Paris that was initially funded by an Iranian group. The city, however, had to shell out more than $20,000 to send two police officers who belong to his security team.

Filner also engaged in a month long battle with the City Attorney's Office, including accusations of mistreating a top city lawyer during a closed-session meeting of the City Council.

"It was not just the women who bravely came forward to share their situation, it was these other things that contributed to a sense that not all was going well at City Hall," Gloria said.

That feeling was laid bare in July when three Filner supporters called on him to resign, accusing him of mistreating women and city employees in general.

Irene McCormack Jackson, the mayor's communications director who resigned about one month earlier, filed a lawsuit accusing Filner of telling her she should work without her panties on, and that he wanted to see her naked and could not wait to consummate their relationship. Filner also allegedly demanded kisses from McCormack Jackson and put his arm around her and dragged her along in a headlock while making sexual remarks.

Stacy McKenzie, a district manager for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, alleged that Filner grabbed her from behind, put her in a headlock and rubbed her breasts at an event at a city park.

While Filner made a couple of attempts to apologize and disappeared for a week to get behavioral therapy, he became fodder for comics near and far.

Former Mayor Jerry Sanders, now president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and other business leaders called on Filner to resign at the beginning of August, noting that the scandals were the talk of the nation.

Filner, facing harassment allegations from around 20 women -- including a retired rear admiral, a dean at San Diego State University and constituents seeking help on various issues -- announced Aug. 23 that he would resign effective one week later.

Although initially proclaiming his innocence, he eventually pleaded guilty to one felony count of false imprisonment and two misdemeanor counts of battery, and was sentenced to three months home confinement and three years probation.

Sanders told City News Service that San Diego has moved past the Filner scandals "and the disgrace he brought to our city."

"He's cost us a tremendous amount of money and negative publicity but it would have only been worse if he had stayed," Sanders said. "Our focus now is electing a mayor who can create jobs, grow our economy and make San Diegans proud."

Gloria, who has been widely praised for his stint as the city's "iMayor," agreed with Sanders' assessment at a recent news conference.

"I think San Diegans by-and-large have moved on," Gloria said. "I think with the help of my council colleagues and our city employees, that we've been able to show over the last couple of months that we're back to doing the work we're supposed to do at City Hall."

The impacts of Filner's short time as mayor will remain, however, as lawsuits slowly work their way through the court system and the campaign for find a new mayor to finish his term has about six weeks to go. Councilmen David Alvarez and Kevin Faulconer, who have distinctly different political points of view, will face each other in a runoff election Feb. 11.

In other city developments in 2013:

-- the long-planned Central Library opened in the East Village, providing a much larger space for books, exhibits and meetings, and two floors for a charter school;

-- a plan to expand the San Diego Convention Center cleared its final regulatory hurdle, but must survive legal challenges before ground is broken;

-- a City Council-approved plan to remove cars from the center of Balboa Park and build a bypass bridge for vehicles failed to pass legal muster, so Filner had municipal employees remove parking spaces and install tables and planters;

-- programming for the celebration of Balboa Park's centennial in 2015 was developed and a social media marketing campaign was instituted; and

-- like every year, practically no progress was made in building a new facility for the Chargers, who have been searching for a replacement for aging Qualcomm Stadium for about a decade.

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