Claims against mayor inflict turmoil on San Diego

This Nov. 7, 2012 file photo shows San Diego Mayor Bob Filner smiling during a news conference at a park in San Diego.
AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File

Updated 11:17 PM ET

SAN DIEGO The news release intended to project an air of normalcy: "Forward with City Business!" exclaimed the announcement Mayor Bob Filner put out last week with some upbeat photos showing the mayor reviewing plans for a new library, smiling at a gay pride parade and celebrating at an office birthday party.

But "normal" San Diego is not these days — not with talk of unwanted advances, groping and headlocks, and comparisons of Filner to Anthony Weiner, the ex-congressman who is resisting calls to quit New York's mayoral race after revelations about new salacious online exchanges.

For the last two weeks, Filner, 70, has been mired in his own scandal over far more serious allegations from seven women that he sexually harassed them. The lurid claims have become the talk of the town — plunging California's second-largest city into political turmoil amid demands for its first Democratic leader in decades to resign.

"I can't go anywhere without it coming up — the Laundromat, the grocery store, a friend's party, a restaurant," said Todd Gloria, a Democrat who, as City Council president, would become interim mayor if Filner resigns. "It comes up everywhere I go, and no one is supportive of the mayor."

On Thursday, four more women publicly identified themselves on San Diego's KPBS as targets of Filner's unwanted sexual advances — bringing to seven the number of accusers who have come forward this week. They include a retired Navy rear admiral, a dean at San Diego State University and the head of the city's Ports Tenants Association.

Yet Filner, like Weiner, shows no sign of quitting, fueling talk of a recall effort less than eight months into his four-year term. Filner refused to discuss the allegations when hounded by reporters at public appearances Thursday, saying they should be addressed through legal channels.

"Let's take a deep breath, let that process work itself out. Meanwhile, we got a city to run," he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Filner and Weiner engaged in behavior that was "disrespectful to women" and "reprehensible." The office of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., also weighed in, with her spokesman, Zachary Coile, saying, "If she were him, she'd resign."

Meanwhile, the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee voted 34-6 Thursday night to ask Filner to leave office. The vote came one week after the committee deadlocked 24-24 on the question. The earlier vote came before any woman had publicly identified herself.

The problems for Filner began two weeks ago when a former councilwoman and onetime Filner supporter called for the mayor to step down, saying she had received credible evidence that he had harassed women. Filner issued a video statement, apologizing for intimidating and "failing to fully respect" women. He called his behavior "inappropriate and wrong," promised to change, and declared, "I need help."

On Monday, Filner's former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, filed a lawsuit claiming that he 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.

A day later, political consultant Laura Fink said in an interview on KPBS that Filner patted her buttocks at an event in 2005 when she was deputy campaign manager to the former 10-term congressman.

On Wednesday, Morgan Rose, a psychologist for the San Diego Unified School District, told KPBS that then-Congressman Filner repeatedly tried to kiss her during a 2009 meeting to discuss child welfare.

The four others who have now gone public include Veronica "Ronne" Froman, a retired rear admiral and former chief operating officer for the city.

She told KPBS that a couple years ago when Filner was a congressman, he blocked a doorway, ran his finger up her cheek and asked if she had a man in her life.

Despite his earlier apology, Filner has insisted he will be cleared of any harassment claims. Regarding McCormack's lawsuit, Filner said, "I do not believe these claims are valid. That is why due process is so important. I intend to defend myself vigorously and I know that justice will prevail."

Even if he survives, many question if Filner can deliver on priorities such as installing solar panels on city buildings, hosting a centennial bash for treasured Balboa Park and improving services in pothole-plagued neighborhoods.

Dr. Pradeep Gidwani, a pediatrician who voted for Filner, said the number of detailed claims from former supporters convinced him the mayor should resign. He noted Filner has not addressed specific allegations.

"If you didn't do it, you say you didn't do it," Gidwani said as he purchased coffee beans at a cafe in the hip North Park neighborhood. "I haven't heard any denials."

Filner backers sipping coffee a few steps away noted the allegations are unproven, and they welcomed his apology. Across the street, restaurant manager Ethan Ostrander said he's taking a wait-and-see approach.

"I was really excited for a Democratic mayor who was going to get stuff done," Ostrander said. "I think everybody needs a second chance."