In a not-so-subtle response to his opponent’s recent attacks on his temperament, San Diego mayoral candidate Rep. Bob Filner held a press conference Tuesday so veteran groups could testify for his work on their behalf.
One of those speakers, Tara Wise, founder of National Women Veterans, identified herself as a victim of military sexual assault and said Filner, a Democrat, reached out to help her when she felt suicidal.
“I wanted to die,” Wise said. “I did not see a future for me, myself, or my son. Immediately he reached out. And there are women veterans all around this nation that tell and can share the same story, because I refer them to him.”
She added that Filner used his position as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, which he held from 2007 through 2011, to ensure female veterans had gender-specific health benefits.
The press conference came a day after District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis endorsed fellow Republican Councilman Carl DeMaio with a series of remarks painting Filner as aggressive and condescending toward women, reinforcing the DeMaio campaign’s closing argument against Filner — that his erratic behavior makes him unfit to be mayor.
But Wise rejected the characterization.
“Erratic, unfit … these propaganda, these different types of ways of making personal threats against people, they hurt us as veterans. I know for myself personally, that’s what happens to woman veterans: defame, deface, divide,” she said, appropriating a similar rhetorical flourish oft-used by DeMaio’s campaign against Filner.
Filner used the event not only to answer the DeMaio campaign’s attacks on his character, but also to remind San Diego’s voters of his federal work for veterans’ benefits, an appeal to the city’s sizable veteran population.
As he has throughout the campaign, Filner mentioned his role in expanding the current GI bill for veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and in adopting a plan to eradicate veteran homelessness nationwide in five years.
He also touted his mayoral pledge to create a department of veteran hiring within the mayor’s office to address veteran unemployment in the city. Staff in that department would work with companies and veterans to decrease that population’s level of joblessness, but also host a summit with government agencies and businesses small and large to implore a moral imperative to hire more veterans.
Bob Mulz, chairman of The Elite SDVOB Network — a national organization in which disabled veteran businesses “help other vets help themselves” — mentioned other bills championed by Filner that help disabled veterans, such as HR 240, which would have promoted veteran jobs by having the Department of Veteran Affairs give preference for sole source contracts to businesses owned or controlled by veterans.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think his opponent knows how to spell veteran,” Mulz said.
Similarly, Bill Rider of the American Combat Veterans of War, said Filner established during his time in Congress a reputation for always giving his vote to veterans when they needed it.
“I’m not sure the opposition has that experience; I’m not even sure they care,” Rider said.
K.B. Forbes, a spokesman for DeMaio’s campaign, responded by pointing to a series of endorsements DeMaio received from service veterans.
“(DeMaio) is committed to keeping Navy headquarters in San Diego by supporting the Navy Broadway Project,” Forbes said.
Filner opposes the downtown Navy Broadway Project — a multiblock office and hotel development of which UT-San Diego publisher Doug Manchester, who has long-standing ties to DeMaio, has been selected to develop — because he says the Navy headquarters doesn’t need to be located along the city’s pedestrian-friendly waterfront.
A few weeks after advancing through the June primary, Filner received national attention for a lengthy tirade on the house floor in which he castigated his fellow representatives for failing to address a growing backlog of disability compensation claims in the VA.