The Noble Rider vs the Creepy Mayor

Bob Filner was a U.S. Representative in California’s 51st district for almost twenty years and San Diego’s mayor from 2012-2013. San Diegans will mostly remember him for resigning the mayor’s office amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment and later pleading guilty to state charges of false imprisonment and battery. In short, he was a real creep, and many of us who had voted for him were glad to see him go.

Which is why, some years later, when I visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN I was taken aback to find this photograph among the many that lined the exhibit about the Freedom Riders.

Yes, that’s right. The young Bob Filner was a freedom rider who spent two months in a Southern jail to protest the racial inequalities in our nation. It was a brave and principled act. So how does this idealistic young freedom rider become an odius middle-aged mayor, infringing on the personal rights of the women around him?

I have no idea, but it fascinates me. Not just in Mr. Filner’s case, but with human beings in general. It’s something I’m always thinking about when I’m writing my novels. How did a character get this way? Was it a bad habit that got worse and worse, leading to an inevitable reckoning? Or was it one bad decision, a fork in the road, steering them down the route to unavoidable consequences? Perhaps they’re just flip sides of the same coin.

This was all occupying my mind as one of the characters in my work-in-progress has some serious sexual harassment issues. I’ve had to think about how that manifests itself and how that fits in with the rest of the character’s identity. And how his behavior has affected the people around him.

The protagonist of my crime series, Rolly Waters, made some bad decisions in his youth. He developed some destructive habits, which only got worse. A mortal reckoning came due and he changed his life, but the residue of his failings still cling. But he’s lucky. He repented. He learned. As Rolly goes about his detective work, dealing with clients and criminals, he’s confronted with echoes of his own past. The criminals he encounters fall on both sides of the coin–some have habituated their criminal life while others are trapped by the consequences of a single bad decision. Either way, Rolly must pursue his case until he arrives at the truth. And he’s reminded of one thing that will always be true. If we don’t get better at life, we get worse.

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