Opinion: Why Nathan Fletcher’s Behavior Toward an MTS Employee Makes Him Unfit for San Diego Office

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Three days, two hours and seven minutes.

That’s how long it took for San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s soaring political career to end this week after a series of revelations that included an admission of alcohol abuse and inappropriate behavior and allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault by a former employee of the transit agency whose board Fletcher chaired.

It is a stunning abuse of power and a sudden fall from it for a politician whose name will now be recalled alongside other local rogues forced from office after misconduct — like Duke Cunningham, Duncan D. Hunter and Bob Filner. In two series of Twitter posts, Fletcher bowed out of a fledgling state Senate campaign at 8:24 p.m. on Sunday, and announced plans to step down as a supervisor at 10:31 p.m. on Wednesday.

The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board, which endorsed Fletcher in the 2018 and 2022 general elections and is a devotee of due process, was prepared to call for his resignation before he announced he would step down. Now, the fallout for him could get worse. Thursday, NBC San Diego reported that a former UC San Diego student accused him of improper behavior in 2015 when she was 19 years old and working as an intern for an organization he founded and that Fletcher had denied it then and now.

The legal process may be conclusive, or the public may never know whether 46-year-old Fletcher’s “interactions” with then-public relations specialist Grecia Figueroa, 34, were “consensual,” as Fletcher claims, or “a pattern and practice of sexual harassment” that created “a hostile, offensive, oppressive and intimidating work environment,” as Figueroa’s lawsuit claims. There are other questions. What did Metropolitan Transit System officials know? MTS fired Figueroa. Why? Will other accusations against Fletcher follow? Is this really happening again in San Diego politics?

Fletcher denies allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault and said Figueroa and her attorney “demanded millions of dollars from me and my family with the threat of not only embarrassment but a willingness to lie about the circumstances and nature of the interactions.” Fletcher’s attorney says, “The simple truth is that Ms. Figueroa pursued my client, their interactions were consensual and Mr. Fletcher does not and never had authority over her employment.”

But social media messages documented in Figueroa’s lawsuit paint a picture of the pursuit of a Metropolitan Transit System employee by a person with a vote and a lot of influence over MTS’ $355 million operating budget — and thus over Figueroa’s future. And Figueroa’s lawsuit claims that Fletcher and his wife, Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, intended to sue Figueroa and her lawyer for extortion.

The suit alleges that Fletcher twice groped Figueroa in a room adjacent to one where official MTS board business had just concluded. It alleges Fletcher “stalked” and flirted with Figueroa on social media for months, kissed her in May in a hotel stairwell, grabbed her breasts in a conference room adjacent to an MTS Executive Committee meeting in June, and grabbed her breasts and further touched her sexually in the same room in December. And Figueroa says she was fired on Feb. 6 — the same day Fletcher launched his campaign for state Senate — despite good marks at a job where, by her account in the lawsuit, she generally did well on annual performance reviews and “got along well with her colleagues, and took pride knowing that she was a valuable asset to her team.” MTS said Thursday the firing was related to documented performance concerns.

Again, a legal settlement or ruling could tell us more. But what’s clear by Fletcher’s own acknowledgment of a “terrible mistake … with someone outside my marriage” is that this was an absolute abuse of power. It erodes public trust, and the supervisor’s office should be ceded to someone more deserving of it.

This is now a massive scandal for MTS, which must answer questions forthrightly and publicly about why Figueroa was fired and who knew what about Fletcher’s conduct. That should be documented in an independent investigation, perhaps by the district attorney, but not solely in one arranged by MTS, an agency whose conduct is in question.

Until this week, Fletcher was a star in the local Democratic Party, and one of the county’s most recognizable politicians. A distinguished Marine turned Republican state Assembly member, Fletcher sponsored Chelsea’s Law, which toughened penalties and restrictions on violent sexual predators, in 2010. He later quit the GOP to become an independent and then a Democrat while finishing third in consecutive San Diego mayor’s races in 2012 and 2013. His 2018 election to the county Board of Supervisors paved the way for Democratic control of a board that had been a Republican stronghold for decades, and his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic helped the region better manage a complex public health crisis. He won re-election last year by a landslide and he was as clear a favorite in his state Senate campaign as a person can be a year before any vote.

Fletcher stunned the San Diego political establishment on Sunday night in a series of tweets while citing post traumatic stress disorder from military “combat piled on top of intense childhood trauma that’s been exacerbated by alcohol abuse” to say he would drop out of his Senate campaign and check himself into an extended inpatient treatment center. Fletcher did not acknowledge any specific reason for his decision, and a who’s who of San Diego area politicians announced their support for him on Twitter. Meanwhile, Figueroa’s lawsuit said Fletcher’s citation of “post traumatic stress, trauma and alcohol abuse” without any mention of the Figueroa allegations about to drop was “a PR stunt designed to shift optics from villain to victim in anticipation of a scandal.”

On Tuesday, he issued a statement about the lawsuit, denying “the things they are alleging” while acknowledging that he “did violate the basic trust and loyalty of my marriage and set a terrible example for our children.” Fletcher did not directly address his responsibilities as MTS board chair or its role in the scandal.

The first reaction of many people to Fletcher’s stunning announcement Sunday was the humane one. Many San Diegans were thankful that Fletcher was seeking help and in a public way. It seemed in keeping with his commitment since being elected in 2018 to represent central San Diego County’s supervisorial Fourth District to destigmatize mental health care and make it more widely available through county programs.

This reaction was no surprise. Normally, a community that reveres and values its veterans should have empathy for a public figure having a reckoning with the personal impact of serving combat tours in Iraq, the Horn of Africa and the Near East — and from having dealt with a “violent and very chaotic” childhood in a badly broken family.

But then the larger picture emerged — a married politician pursuing an employee of the agency whose budget and work he oversees is a trespass against the employee, the spouse and the public. What happens in their marriage should be between Fletcher and his wife. But that privilege of privacy does not extend to public office. Just Fletcher’s self-admitted actions show he is unfit to serve and was right to resign. The court case and new allegations may prove he is even more unfit.

Two of Fletcher’s aides quit Wednesday in the wake of this week’s revelations. Others may leave, too, and the residents of his supervisorial district deserve to have leadership they can count on, so relying on a short-staffed team of unelected officials for any substantial period is unacceptable. He must go now. We hope his staff serves until the supervisors appoint a successor or call a special election to find someone of better character, quickly and fairly.

All of Figueroa’s allegations are concerning, but those that Fletcher groped her after meetings in MTS buildings are especially troubling in a city where the disgusting memories of former San Diego mayor and serial sexual abuser Bob Filner are not even a decade old.

Fletcher no doubt experienced horrific things in combat and awful childhood traumas. But that doesn’t excuse his abuses of power, and announcing he was stepping back from politics because of his past without fully disclosing his transgressions makes his comments seem more self-serving and political than honest and heartfelt.

Click here to read the full article in the San Diego Union Tribune


  1. Rottweiler says

    I thought him a perfect model for the DNC.

  2. Fletcher changing to the democrat party should have been the first clue. Democrats have no fear about supporting dysfunctional personnel. So long as they mime the party line and don’t get caught.
    It is good to know that sexual peccadilloes are still a disqualifier in politics. I have a feeling if Trump gets convicted, celibacy will be mandated.

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