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Political sex scandals are much more enjoyable when you weren't rooting for the politician.

This brings us to San Diego. I know you were dying to be brought to San Diego, people. How could you not? It has such wonderful weather.

Also, terrible government. The public pension system is billions of dollars in the hole. Fire services are underfunded, and Southern California is not a place where you want to scrimp on fire services.

In November, for the first time in forever, San Diego voters elected a liberal Democrat as mayor. Bob Filner, a longtime congressman, ran as a champion of city neighborhoods, which always got short shrift from a government fixated on downtown business interests. "This is a town where the hoteliers have treated City Hall as their personal ATM machine," said Steve Erie, a professor of political science at UC San Diego.

Filner, 70, was just beginning what was supposed to be a war to shift resources from the big guys to the little people. Then, this past week, some of his prominent supporters called for his resignation, claiming he had sexually harassed staff members and campaign volunteers.

The complainants, who reportedly include a 72-year-old constituent, have not yet come forward in public. Filner says he's not going anywhere. But when the politician's first defense is "I'm a hugger," it does not necessarily bode well.

Things couldn't get much worse. San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the nation. Reforming it while fighting charges that you regularly grabbed women by the buttocks or put them into a "Filner headlock" seems close to impossible.

The nation is always going to have political sex crises, but, in a perfect world, we would confine them to Congress. The only thing you really need members of Congress to do is vote the way you want them to. They can be a day away from indictment or as crazy as a loon and it doesn't make a whole lot of difference.

For instance, you may be totally unaware that this past week we got a new chapter in the story of the private life of Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee. His saga went like this:

; Congressman gets caught sending a lovey-dovey text to an aspiring swimsuit model.

; In defense, congressman announces that the woman in question is actually his recently uncovered love child.

; Congressman and surprise daughter take DNA tests for CNN. There's no relationship.

; Asked for further comment, congressman tells a female reporter: "You're very attractive, but I'm not talking about it."<WC>

Now, Cohen's constituents in Memphis no doubt had a lot to discuss over the dinner table. Otherwise, their lives went on exactly the same as they did before.

But, if you are in San Diego, you do not want the chief executive's energies directed toward defending his sexual behavior. New Yorkers who lived through the Rudy Giuliani marital meltdown could tell you about that.

Yet Filner has decided he can handle things. There was that initial vow for self-improvement. ("If my behavior doesn't change, I cannot succeed in leading our city.") Then came the inevitable swing to self-defense. ("I believe a full presentation of the facts will vindicate me.")

You could certainly argue that the voters who elected Filner were already aware that he was no prize on the personal front. During the campaign, one of the opposition's ads featured the story of a United Airlines customer service representative who had filed assault-and-battery charges against him. (The then-congressman went ballistic when his luggage was slow to arrive on the carousel. He eventually pleaded no contest to a lesser charge and paid a fine.)

"Everybody knew he had a kind of East Coast demeanor," a former supporter, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, said in a phone interview. New Yorkers might have taken offense at that remark, but we are in the Weiner-Spitzer summer. Gonzalez, whose brother, a lawyer, represents some of Filner's accusers, said she had viewed the mayor as a guy from another generation who needed some coaching in how to deal with the opposite sex — until she talked to victims. Then she decided that, even if she helped create a terrible mess, she wanted to speak up.

"We have a moral responsibility when we find things out to call for what's right," she said.

Ever since the Clinton impeachment crisis, we've been discovering how much personal misbehavior we're prepared to ignore in elected officials. Hypocrisy, for sure. Adultery, definitely. Chronic lying, maybe. Financial skullduggery, possibly.

But there are a few qualities that define us as a nation. We couldn't tolerate an official who dragged his underlings into the office and subjected them to a barrage of racial epithets. The same goes for a sexual predator who made female workers feel demeaned, uncomfortable and frightened.

We'll see how it goes. At least San Diego has the beaches.

<i>Gail Collins is a columnist for the New York Times.</i>