With deal in place, will San Diego mayor leave?
SAN DIEGO (AP) — A deal aimed at resolving the sexual harassment scandal involving Bob Filner hit a snag Thursday when the attorney suing the mayor over such allegations said she was not party to the tentative agreement between city officials and Filner.
Details of the proposal that ended three days of talks Wednesday haven’t been disclosed, but City Council members have said in the past the mayor needed to agree to quit for any deal to be struck.
A person with knowledge of the settlement talks said the main sticking points involved granting Filner indemnity and covering his legal fees in the sexual harassment lawsuit by his former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson. The person was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
But McCormack’s attorney, Gloria Allred, said on the eve of Friday’s scheduled closed-door session by the City Council on the deal, that she would not support paying the mayor’s legal fees as part of the settlement, indicating the lawsuit could continue.
Allred said she does not know the details of the proposed resolution, but: “If the deal requires that the City Council pay him $1, then I, for one, think that they should vote against it. There should be no payoff for Mayor Filner. It would be a slap in the face to the mayor’s many victims to see him get anything from the city of San Diego. His parting gift should be ‘good riddance’ instead of a handout.”
At least 17 women have claimed Filner sexually harassed them, though only one lawsuit has been filed. All nine members of the City Council, along with a laundry list of fellow Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have called on Filner to quit.
Republican Councilman Mark Kersey said Thursday that Filner’s resignation was non-negotiable on any deal.
“Without his resignation being part of it, it’s a nonstarter,” he said.
San Diego State University political science professor Brian Adams said the City Council is in a no-win situation if the only way to get Filner out is by paying his legal fees. The public wants Filner gone but doesn’t want to see him get taxpayer money to pay his bills, Adams said. But if the city doesn’t pay for his defense, then Filner could refuse to leave office and the city’s political paralysis could continue as a recall effort moves forward.
“It’s not clear which one of those is going to be a stronger pull for City Council members, and what they are actually willing to give up in negotiating with Bob Filner,” Adams said. “They know any use of public money to defend Bob Filner against these lawsuits is incredibly toxic, and the public will be outraged.”
San Diego Democratic consultant Chris Crotty agreed. But he said if voters were told to decide between refusing his legal fees and risk having him remain in office or pay and guarantee he leaves: “I bet most would choose to hold their nose, say OK and pay the money to get him out.”
Besides, he added, under California law the city must defend Filner even if the City Council ends up saying it won’t.
“The law when it comes to sexual harassment holds the employer still liable for the actions of an employee,” Crotty said. So upon a judgment against Filner, the city would be on the hook regardless of any action the City Council takes.
For his part, Filner has no reason to resign unless he secures an agreement that will shed his financial exposure, Adams said. The twice-divorced, former congressman has acknowledged disrespecting and intimidating women but has denied any sexual harassment.
“Filner knows he only has one bargaining chip and that’s the fact that everyone wants him to resign,” he said. “Once he resigns, he has no leverage.”
The 70-year-old leader of the nation’s eighth-largest city was back to work at City Hall on Thursday, his lawyers said, after all but vanishing over the past three weeks while undergoing therapy for his behavior.
His attorneys declined to comment on the proposed deal “due to the confidential nature of mediation and settlement discussions.”
The sex scandal has plunged the city into political turmoil. A recall effort has started and organizers have gathered about 10 percent of the roughly 100,000 signatures needed to call an election. Meanwhile, women have continued coming forward to say Filner made unwanted advances and inappropriate statements to them.
McCormack was the first woman to go public with harassment allegations against Filner, who took office last December. She 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.
Other accusers contend that he cornered, groped and forcibly kissed them.
Should Filner resign, City Council President Todd Gloria would become acting mayor until a special election is held.
Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this report. Blood reported from Los Angeles.