BY TSOGHIG HEKIMIAN
As a former employee of Congressman Bob Filner of San Diego and an active member of the Armenian community of Washington DC (and previously Los Angeles), I am writing this article today to urge every Armenian in San Diego to vote for Bob Filner for Mayor in this upcoming election.
September 12th, 2002, was my first day working in Washington DC for Congressman Filner. It was so surreal because my previous job was in my parent’s jewelry booth in Downtown Los Angeles (for all of you non-Angelinos, the Jewelry District in Downtown LA is an area where there are hundreds of jewelry retailers, the majority of them being Armenian). I went from selling jewelry to working for a Congressman in his Washington office! Working in his office was a very enlightening and exciting experience. (I highly recommend all young people who are majoring in Political Science, History or Public Policy to spend time working or interning for a politician; there is nothing like learning on the job…but I digress.)
When I was preparing to interview for the job, I did a great deal of research on Congressman Filner. He was one of 16 members of Congress with a Ph.D., and he had served on the San Diego School Board as well as the San Diego City Council before he ran for Congress. However, the most interesting bit of his history was that he had been arrested and jailed for two months in Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s for being a Freedom Rider.
I worked for Congressman Filner for over a year, during which I discovered the characteristics of an unapologetic, assertive, and very vocal advocate for the underdog. The underdogs that got the most attention in his office were Veterans. He served on the House of Representatives Veterans’ Affairs Committee for his entire career as a Congressman, and he chaired the committee for four years when the Democrats were a majority of the House from 2006-2010. Under his watch, funding and support for Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan increased exponentially in the form of mental and physical health services and more money for business and home loans. Most importantly, he authored and helped to pass the GI Bill for the 21st Century, enabling Veterans to earn a college degree without worrying about how they are going to pay the bills.
Another underdog Congressman Filner is a supporter of is Armenia and the Armenian-American community. Filner co-sponsored every Armenian Genocide recognition bill for the last 17 years. He has also spoken at numerous Genocide recognition events in Washington and San Diego and has displayed unwavering support on issues regarding Armenians.
He has also supported Cypriot, Greek and Kurdish issues. On July 19, 2010 he submitted comments in the House of Representatives in support of Cypriot independence and the return of stolen properties by Turks to the rightful Cypriot owners. Congressman Filner introduced legislation for a number of years calling for the immediate and unconditional release from prison of Kurdish members of the Parliament of the Republic of Turkey, in particular Leyla Zana. Zana was imprisoned in Turkey for 10 years because, upon entering the Parliament, she said the last sentence of her oath in Kurdish. She was released from prison in 2004. Congressman Filner is a member of the Armenian Caucus as well as the Hellenic Caucus and, unlike some of our other friends, he is NOT a member of the Turkish Caucus.
Filner’s advocacy of Genocide recognition is engrained in his genes. His father, Joe Filner, joined the U.S. Army during WWII and was part of a group of Yiddish speaking soldiers who liberated two concentration camps. His father witnessed the atrocities that our grandparents and some of our parents experienced and, from that day forward, he vowed to stand against such crimes against humanity. Joe Filner’s commitment to justice was engrained in his son, Congressman Filner, as he has been steadfast in his support for justice for the Armenians, Greeks, Kurds and all other oppressed people around the world.
I am writing this to assure the Armenian community that we will forever have a friend in Congressman Filner. As Mayor of San Diego, Congressman Filner will have many opportunities to support Genocide recognition events, pass and sign supportive proclamations, as well as advocate from a high perch for Genocide recognition by the federal government. Until we have viable Armenian candidates running, it is vital that we support and promote our non-Armenian friends to higher office. Congressman Filner has a long track record of friendship with Armenian Americans, and our community should feel confident that they are electing a strong advocate for Armenians as Mayor of San Diego when they vote for Bob Filner.
I strongly urge Armenians in San Diego and Armenians who have friends in San Diego to support Congressman Filner’s run for Mayor!