Mayor Bob Filner and San Diego's hotel industry butted heads Tuesday afternoon, in a raucous City Council hearing over millions of dollars in disputed tourism marketing funds.
Filner was outvoted, but vowed to carry on his fight against what he claims are illegal taxes.
It was as though Filner marched into a lion's den with a whip and a chair -- lecturing council members and a chamber packed with tourism industry interests about questionable ethics and political influence.
His 15-minute diatribe ended when a tourism marketing official confronted him at the microphone, before both were cut off.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to proceed with the Council deliberations now!” Council President Todd Gloria interjected, struggling to regain control of the hearing. “Mayor, I'd ask you to please take a seat. It is time for the Council to start deliberating!”
Applause, cheers and whistles erupted from the audience.
Filner said he and directors of the hotel industry's Tourism Marketing District had come close to an agreement under which the mayor would release millions of dollars in controversial room surcharges.
He asked the Council for another 48 hours to resolve impasses over certain concessions Filner was insisting on -- including a $160,000 cap on salaries for marketing contractors, indemnification of the city in connection with legal challenges to the TMD, and $5 million for the 2015 centennial celebration of Balboa Park.
The frozen funds, proceeds of a 2 percent surcharge on hotel guests, are needed for promotional campaigns to lure visitors and conventioneers to San Diego.
The mayor called out council members who'd received political donations from hoteliers, along with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.
“Mr. Gloria, you took tens of thousands of dollars from the same people,” Filner told the council president. “You didn't have a campaign. I suspect that half the Council took campaign contributions from these same people. I would argue that you are not entitled to vote on the contract, by state law. And I will pursue that, whatever the city attorney might say."
But the Council voted 6 to 1 for a resolution mandating that he sign a contract freeing up the money in dispute.
Councilman Scott Sherman referred to Filner as "an arsonist fireman, " explaining: "They come in and start a fire and then say 'Wait a minute, I'll put it out and be a hero.’ It's a different way of thinking about things and it's usually political theater and time to get on-camera. That's not what we're supposed to do in a local government setting."
An unapologetic mayor later told reporters that the hoteliers "have bought the City Council. They have not bought the mayor, as they have in the past. They think they get their way, that they don't have to negotiate, they don't have to give up anything. They believe that they run this city."
Filner warned that he’ll veto the Council's ordinance, and if the veto is overridden, he'd still refuse to sign the contract.
If a judge orders him to do so after yet another lawsuit and court hearing, the mayor said he'd refuse and take the matter to the appellate process.
His warning: the marketing money could be tied up for many months, maybe a year.