California AG investigates San Diego mayor
SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego Mayor Bob Filner agreed Friday to resign on Aug. 30, bowing to enormous pressure after lurid sexual harassment allegations brought by at least 17 women eroded his support after just nine months as leader of the U.S. border city.
Immediately after Filner told the City Council he would leave office next week. the California attorney general’s office opened a criminal investigation into the allegations.
Filner, a Democrat who served 20 years in Congress before becoming mayor of the nation’s eighth-largest city, was both regretful and defiant during a City Council meeting as he explained the “the toughest decision of my life.” He apologized to his accusers but insisted he was innocent of sexual harassment and said he was the victim of a “lynch mob.”
The council voted 7-0 on a deal that ended a political stalemate after more than a dozen women publicly identified themselves as targets of unwanted advances, including touching, forcible kisses and lurid comments.
“The city should not have to go through this, and my own personal failures were responsible and I apologize to the city,” Filner said after vote.
The 70-year-old Filner previously insisted he still could be an effective mayor and underwent two weeks of behavioral therapy before returning to work this week.
But his support diminished as more women — one of them a great-grandmother and another a retired Navy admiral — came forward and told stories of Filner touching, forcibly kissing, making lewd comments and even placing them in headlocks. Some of Filner’s closest political allies and all nine members of the council called on him to quit.
On Friday, just before the Council vote, the Democratic National Committee took the extraordinary step of passing a resolution demanding Filner leave.
Dozens of people spoke for and against the mayor before the council convened behind closed doors to discuss confidential terms negotiated by Filner and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.
“Without the mayor’s resignation, our city will continue to be paralyzed by this scandal, progress will be arrested and our focus will continue to be monopolized by this dark chapter in our history,” said Laura Fink, a political consultant who accused Filner of patting her buttocks in 2005 when she was deputy campaign manager to the then-congressman.
Rachel Laing, a spokeswoman for an effort to recall the mayor, said petition gatherers have collected 20,000 signatures in five days to qualify for the ballot but that she would accept a deal for the mayor to resign.
“Every day he’s in office is a day that the city remains in paralysis and that his victims suffer,” she told the council.
Still, many who came to the special meeting supported the embattled mayor, hailing the liberal Democrat’s work on behalf of civil rights and struggling minority groups.
After taking office on Dec. 3, 2012, Filner struck a five-year labor agreement with city unions and opened a city of San Diego office in Tijuana to strengthen ties with the Mexican border city, However, he alienated many key players even before the allegations surfaced, including members of the City Council, the city attorney and hoteliers
Filner’s biggest bargaining chip at the negotiating table was his refusal to resign.
A person with knowledge of the negotiations said the main sticking points during talks involved granting Filner indemnity and covering his legal fees in the sexual harassment lawsuit. The person was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The deal was negotiated between Filner, his lawyers, Goldsmith and two City Council members. It does not include attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Filner’s former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, in a lawsuit filed against Filner and the city.
Allred said the City Council should not support it if in exchange for his resignation the city is going to use taxpayer money to pay Filner’s legal bills.
McCormack, as she is known professionally, was the first woman to go public with allegations against Filner and her lawsuit is the only filed against the mayor and the city. McCormack claimed the mayor asked her to work without panties, demanded kisses, told her he wanted to see her naked and dragged her in a headlock while whispering in her ear.
Attorney general spokesman Nicholas Pacilio said Friday that a criminal investigation into the allegations is under way but declined to elaborate. He spoke moments after Filner told the City Council he would leave office next week.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is fielding complaints of sexual misconduct by the mayor and delivering its findings to the attorney general’s office.
Todd Gloria, the Democratic City Council president, becomes acting mayor until a special election is held within 90 days.
Filner, who began his political career on the San Diego school board and later served on the City Council, is twice divorced. Bronwyn Ingram ended her marriage engagement days before the scandal broke and later said Filner sent sexually explicit text messages to other women and arranged dates in her presence.
Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat and Michael R. Blood contributed to this report. Blood reported from Los Angeles.