Consider the dilemma of a very left-of-center Democrat, positioned as a "progressive" running against a gay Republican for mayor in a city that has elected Republicans to that position.
He can't exactly verbally gay-bash or openly appeal to the anti-gay vote. But, retiring Congressman Bob Filner, running for San Diego mayor, found a unique way to remind the public that his opponent, Carl DeMaio, is gay.
Filner used the flimsiest of connections to justify public attacks on DeMaio and his partner, Johnathan Hale. Filner demanded DeMaio "condemn Jonathan (sic) Hale's criminal actions."
That sound serious, so what did Hale actually do? Nothing, really. Hale publishes the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. An entertainment columnist who works for the site wrote an article about upcoming events in San Diego. He wrote six sentences about a midnight water gun fight planned for Balboa Park.
The water fight, which took place last year as well, got out of control and some people jumped into the lily pond, damaging the area.
Beyond this mention by a columnist, there doesn't appear to be any connection between Hale and the water fight. Even if there were, there is no reason to think organizers anticipated this, especially as a similar event last year caused no damage, according to police.
Filner continued the attack during a campaign debate. He claimed the mention of the event
"...shows, at the very least, an incredible lack of judgment by someone who is going to, according to Carl, play a major role in the next administration if he's elected. Surely this Johnathan Hale ought to answer some questions about his culpability in this."
Filner appears to be flinging accusations to remind the public that DeMaio is gay, that his partner is Hale, and that Hale runs a gay media site. Hale's site said they had no connection to the event other than repeating a news item that appeared in multiple outlets.
DeMaio expressed dismay that Filner would stoop to this sort of attack. Filner replied by repeating the accusation: "Where is the lie, Mr. DeMaio? Was the website Mr. Hale's? Was the website Mr. Hale's that promoted this event? ... Who's dodging the question?"
All of this is hot air. Yes, Hale owns the media website that mentioned the water fight was scheduled, but, the publication is not, nor can it be, responsible for what happened at the event. If people got in a fistfight at a Filner campaign rally, would Filner be responsible merely because he told people the rally would be taking place? Clearly not.
The San Diego Reader gave far more play to the event than did SDGLN. Filner has not suggested the publisher of The Reader is guilty of criminal activity, but then the publisher is not the partner of his election opponent.
A Facebook page promoting the event, since removed, showed a list of organizers and Hale was not among them.
Perhaps this is a pre-emptive strike, with the Congressman fearing DeMaio would mention how Filner's wife was paid $505,000 for "consulting services" from his campaign budgets over the years. This was especially odd, given that Filner was his wife's only client and she received $60,000 in payments for consulting during one election when he ran unopposed. Filner justified his actions by saying they were entirely legal -- but so is publishing an event's schedule in a newspaper, something that also enjoys First Amendment protections.
However, a pre-emptive strike makes no sense to me and I find it hard to believe that Filner actually believes Hale is in any way criminally responsible for an out-of-control water fight.
Far more likely, in my estimation, is that this is a calculated move by Filner to remind everyone that DeMaio has a male partner who owns a gay media site.This allows him to remind anti-gay voters that DeMaio is gay, without actually having to engage in verbal gay bashing.
If comments left on the website of CBS news in San Diego are any indication, it's working. One person writes: "Was that DeMaio in the assless chaps?!" Another: "DeMaio - sounds like gay pride means that irresponsible behavior is over-looked. Don't let your wife/husband slap you around for this." Another:
"DeMaio has responded to this incident by having a hissy-fit tantrum about the Filner allegations of involvement of his gay lover, who publishes the gay rag in town that promoted this event. DeMaio has shown that he is more concerned about his wife/husband than the issue of damage to the cherished city icon."
Filner's attacks seem to be an intentional appeal to anti-gay bigotry in the only way safe for a so-called progressive. That such attacks would encourage homophobic reactions are far more predictable than knowing a water fight would get out of control.
Filner may wax poetic about rights of minorities, but when he needs the bigoted vote he is not above using the flimsiest of excuses to drag his opponent's sexuality into the debate. This was no accident, nor was Filner merely uninformed.
Filner is not a political novice. He's wandered the halls of power for 30 years and knows every trick in the book, including dirty ones. His actions seem intended to encourage anti-gay conservatives to hold their nose and vote for Filner.