No Stranger to Sex Scandals, Bob Filner Defeated a Scandal-Tarred Sexual Predator in 1992

San Diego Mayor and former U.S. Rep. Bob Filner

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, a former U.S. congressman who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by over a dozen women, is no stranger to political sex scandals. In fact, he used the sexual harassment scandal of a disgraced former congressman — who was previously Filner’s boss — to win a contested Democratic congressional primary in 1992.

At the time, Filner was a San Diego city councilman with larger ambitions. Filner had just been elected deputy mayor, but he had his eyes set on a San Diego congressional seat that had previously been held by Democrat Jim Bates. Filner, a long-time congressional staffer, had actually worked for Bates in his congressional office in 1984.

Bates’ career arc was eerily similar to that of Filner. Also a former San Diego city councilman, Bates was elected to represent a San Diego congressional district that had been created following the 1980 census. At the time, it was the most heavily Democratic congressional district in San Diego. Bates won a special election for the seat in 1983 and was easily re-elected in 1984, 1986, and 1988.

But just before his re-election in 1988, Bates was accused of sexual harassing female staffers. The allegations were first reported by Roll Call.

“A small weekly Washington newspaper that specializes in issues affecting Capitol Hill reported Monday that Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego) has a pattern of sexually harassing female employees, losing his temper and treating workers cruelly, and has used his office for political activities,” the Los Angeles Times reported on September 27, 1988.

The accusations against Bates were remarkably specific.

Bates allegedly asked female staff for hugs every day so he would “feel better,” asked one female staffer if she would sleep with him if they were stranded on a deserted island (she said no), and stared at one female’s breasts while she was communicating with a male constituent and said, “Yes, they look good don’t they?”

Although Bates initially tried to brush off the accusations, he eventually apologized for anything he did that “might have seemed inappropriate.”

Following a lengthy investigation into the charges against Bates, the U.S. House Ethics Committee eventually issued a public letter of reproval against him on October 18, 1989. The letter directed Bates to apologize to two of his victims for “behavior which was sexual harassment.” The ethics committee also directed Bates to provide copies of his apologies to the committee.

The scandal proved too much for Bates to handle. He was defeated for re-election in 1990 by Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran. Cunningham would later resign from Congress in 2005 and plead guilty to various corruption, fraud, and bribery charges. In the 1990 race, Bates lost to Cunningham by just one point.

In 1992, fresh off being elected deputy mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner chose to run for Congress in the newly created 50th congressional district. It was in the Democratic primary for this seat that Filner faced off against his old boss, disgraced sexual predator and former congressman Jim Bates.

Filner defeated Bates, who came in third, with barely a quarter of all votes cast. Bates received 20.1 percent to Filner’s 25.9 percent. Filner went on to defeat Republican Tony Valencia to claim the newly created congressional seat in 1992.