August 23, 2013Updated4:06 p.m.
Bob Filner announced his resignation Friday as San Diego’s 35th mayor following a tumultuous six weeks in which lurid allegations of repeated sexual misconduct against women crippled his ability to lead and turned him into a subject of national ridicule.
Filner will to step down on Aug. 30 as part of a deal approved Friday afternoon by the City Council on a 7-0 vote in closed session that limits his legal and financial exposure stemming from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former aide.
In a dramatic appearance before the council, Filner was both apologetic yet defiant, lashing out against a “lynch-mob mentality.”
“For my part in causing all of this, I offer a deep apology certainly to all the citizens of San Diego,” he said after the vote.
He added: “To all the women I offended, I had no intention to be offensive.”
But he questioned the claims against him.
“Not one allegation …has even been independently verified or proven in court,” he said. “I have never sexually harassed anyone.”
He criticized the “media and their political agents” and said he “played into the hand” of those who wanted a “political coup.”
He said he “provided ammunition for that.”
Filner’s resignation completes a stunning fall for the longtime politician and former congressman. He took office in December as the first Democratic mayor in 20 years and promised to shake up City Hall for the betterment of the disenfranchised and downtrodden. Instead his brief tenure was rife with conflict and questionable decisions before imploding last month amid numerous accusations of sexual impropriety.
“This settlement represents an end to our civic nightmare and allows our city to begin to heal,” said Council President Todd Gloria, who will take over many of the operational duties of the mayor.
The council was unanimous in support of the agreement save two absent members. Democrat Myrtle Cole and Republican Scott Sherman were traveling outside the city, according to their offices.
Under the agreement, the city drops the cross-complaint it filed against Filner and will provide a joint legal defense in the lawsuit. Filner may continue to retain outside counsel, but the city will pay no more than $98,000 for his attorney fees. The city will have complete control over decisions on settlements of any claims.
“This agreement protects taxpayers and closes this sad chapter in San Diego’s history,” said Councilman Kevin Faulconer. “I worked to ensure the best scenario possible for San Diego taxpayers. It would not have been possible without the City Attorney, the City Council and the passionate work of the San Diegans who launched an effort to recall Mayor Filner.”
One of Filner’s female accusers, political consultant Laura Fink, gave emotional testimony before the council vote saying she stood with the alleged victims.
“I hope that you will consider the nature and degree of the deplorable behavior that the mayor has committed,” Fink said during a public hearing before the council went behind closed doors.
“I do think that it’s time for some healing,” said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith also before the vote.
Goldsmith was a key player in the negotiations leading to Filner’s exit.
The formal resignation puts in motion the steps to replace Filner, with Council President Todd Gloria assuming authority over mayoral staff and city operations until a replacement is elected.
The council must set a special election within 90 days and several high-profile contenders are expected to consider running. They include former Councilman Carl DeMaio, Councilman Kevin Faulconer, former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, Gloria, former state Sen. Christine Kehoe and Assemblywoman Toni Atkins. Fletcher filed his intention to run with the City Clerk on Tuesday.
If no wins a majority, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff within 49 days later.
The twice-divorced Filner, 70, had been dogged by rumors of inappropriate behavior toward women for years, but it took three political allies coming forward July 11 on behalf of unidentified women to bring about his downfall. The trio, including former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, said they represented numerous women who had been sexually harassed by the mayor and asked Filner to resign to spare his accusers from being “twice victimized” by forcing them to go public with specific details.
Filner defiantly refused to step down, leading to a parade of women going public with accusations in the following weeks.
Avalanche of accusations
First among them was Irene McCormack Jackson, who served as Filner’s communications director from January to June. She hired attorney Gloria Allred and sued Filner and the city for sexual harassment. She accused Filner of creating a hostile work environment that treated women as “sexual objects or stupid idiots.” Specifically, she said Filner made unwanted sexual advances and derogatory comments, such as suggesting she should work without her panties on.
Then came the avalanche. Nearly 20 women — from a Navy rear admiral to a university dean — stepped forward to share their stories of Filner’s unwanted advances that included slobbery kisses, groping and rude comments. Many of the allegations carried a similar theme: Filner would isolate the women, inquire about their relationship status and then force himself on them in some way.
Some of the accusations were particularly devastating to Filner, who built his career on being a champion for society’s underdogs and a stubborn advocate for military veterans. He allegedly hit on victims of military sexual assault at a fundraiser for their cause. He conditioned his help for an Iraq War veteran on whether the Marine’s caretaker would have a romantic relationship with him. And he gave an unwanted kiss to a 67-year-old great-grandmother and part-time City Hall worker and then bragged about his sexual stamina — “Do you think I could go for eight hours straight?”
Filner never directly addressed the specific allegations although he issued two vague apologies for “inappropriate and wrong” behavior toward women. At the same time, he proclaimed his innocence of sexual harassment and called for due process.
Filner hadn’t made a public appearance since July 26 when he said he would enter two weeks of intensive therapy at an undisclosed clinic to change his behavior. His lawyers say the treatment ended Aug. 10, but Filner hasn’t provided any proof he actually received therapy.
Filner’s decision to call it quits ends the possibility that he would have been the first San Diego mayor to be recalled from office. Proponents began circulating petitions Sunday in an uphill battle to collect more than 101,000 signatures from registered voters in 39 days to trigger a recall election.
More than 15,000 signatures have been collected in less than a week but will stop now that Filner is leaving of his own accord.
With huge financial support from labor unions, Filner won a hard-fought election last fall to become San Diego’s second Democratic mayor in 40 years. His victory was seen by Democrats as a turning point in their long struggle to wrest the reins of power from Republicans and the powerful business establishment. Filner promised to bring dramatic change to City Hall by focusing on neighborhood improvements and helping the less fortunate.
Even before the sexual harassment allegations, Filner struggled in his role as the city’s chief executive. Day-to-day business slowed to a crawl because of his micromanaging style. His office stumbled repeatedly to provide basic public information or respond quickly to criticism. Filner regularly clashed in public with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and Council President Gloria over policy and procedural issues.
Filner’s troubles were often dismissed by supporters and even some critics as normal friction caused by the mayor getting acclimated to his new job and responsibilities.
Those explanations became less and less frequent as Filner became embroiled in one dust-up after another. In June alone, he ordered police to remove a deputy city attorney from a meeting, which council members called offensive and inexcusable. He was forced to return a $100,000 civic donation from a developer over concerns about how it was obtained. And two of his closest advisers, including McCormack Jackson, resigned over how the mayor conducted himself and treated staff.
Amid those controversies Filner took an unannounced trip to France and for nearly a week his staff refused to answer any questions, including whether he was out of the country.
By the end of June even some of Filner’s top Democratic supporters began questioning whether the mayor’s aggressive and quarrelsome behavior threatened to derail his agenda.
Despite the numerous skirmishes, Filner is credited with several accomplishments. He brokered a five-year labor deal with city workers, ordered the removal of cars from Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama, secured money for the park’s upcoming centennial celebration, cleaned up the foul-smelling bird droppings in La Jolla and funded two year-round homeless shelters, among other things.
Those accomplishments have been overwhelmed by the sexual harassment allegations.
Filner’s election to mayor was supposed to be the crowning achievement of a 34-year career in politics, but the spotlight only served to expose to a larger audience the character flaws that supporters had long dismissed as “Filner being Filner.” He has a well-earned reputation as a cantankerous and confrontational figure who loves to tell jokes (sometimes of the cringe-worthy variety) and demands excellence from those around him.