San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s long political career – which dates back to the civil rights era and included many years as a progressive Democrat in Congress – came to a dramatic end Friday afternoon, the finale to a dramatic few weeks that saw woman after woman come forward to accuse him of inappropriate conduct.
As part of a deal, Mr. Filner will resign a week from now (Aug. 30) in exchange for the city taking some steps to limit his financial liability for the legal problems that are sure to follow.
Under the agreement, the city drops the cross-complaint it filed against Filner and will provide a joint legal defense in the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former aide, U-T San Diego reports. 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.
Eighteen women (at last count) had accused the mayor and former congressman of groping them or making lewd comments, the list ranging from his former communications director (who sued him for sexual harassment) to military veterans to a 67-year-old great-grandmother.
In a public apology weeks ago, Filner conceded that his conduct had been “inappropriate and wrong,” then he disappeared into two weeks of what he called “intensive therapy.”
But by then it was way too late, and a signature-gathering effort to oust him by ballot measure was underway. Meanwhile, federal, state, and local investigators began gathering information and building cases against Filner for financial issues dealing with developers.
In a dramatic appearance after the City Council had met in private Friday afternoon to formally accept the negotiated settlement, Filner apologized to San Diegans and to his accusers.
"The city should not have to go through this, and my own personal failures were responsible and I apologize to the city," Filner said.
"To all the women that I've offended, I had no intention to be offensive, to violate any physical or emotional space," he said. "I was trying to establish personal relationships, but the combination of awkwardness and hubris led to behavior that I think many found offensive."
But the disgraced mayor also slammed what he called a political “lynch mob” mentality marked by “rumor and innuendo” that led to his downfall.
Of the allegations by the 18 women who came forward to personally accuse him of inappropriate conduct, Filner said, “Not one allegation has been independently verified or proven in court.”
“I know that given due process, I would have been vindicated,” he said.
Vindication for Filner had not been on the mind of a long and growing list or prominent Democrats who had called for his resignation, including California’s two US senators (Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer), House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and both the Democratic Party of San Diego and Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a US representative from Florida.
On the day when he finally agreed to step down, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) unanimously approved a resolution urging Filner to resign.
"We cannot reassure voters that a vote for a Democrat is a vote for a champion for women unless Democrats walk our talk on equality and take firm action in accordance with our values and stand up for women by condemning his behavior and calling on him to immediately resign as Mayor of San Diego," the resolution states.
Meanwhile, organizers had begun gathering thousands of signatures for a ballot measure that would have recalled Filner from office.
Before going into closed session to consider the deal worked out over three days of negotiations mediated by a retired federal judge (and before Filner made his dramatic, forceful comments), the City Council heard from several dozen members of the public who had signed up for one minute to speak.
The comments were respectful and polite, but they also illustrated the depth of feeling behind a political scandal that has roiled the city.
Filner was described as “a lecher … a predator,” and one of his accusers warned that “every day he is in office is a day that the city remains in paralysis.”
But Filner also was lauded as one who had served the area well as a member of Congress for 10 terms, known for listening to and acting on constituents’ concerns.
“He has devoted his lifetime to serving the oppressed,” said one, who noted that Filner as a young man had joined the “Freedom Riders” during the fight for civil rights in the South.
Others complained that he was being subjected to “political assassination” before a “kangaroo court.”
“We demand due process for the Mayor as well as for the accusers,” said one.
City Council members also heard strong words from many speakers who argued against any negotiated deal that left Filner off the hook for any legal costs connected to charges made by a list of women that seemed to grow daily.
"If you agree to pay Bob Filner's expenses, you are telling our future leaders and our youth that it is OK to do wrong," one speaker said. "The payment of his legal fees and judgments are his responsibilities."
In the end, council members – some of them grudgingly – agreed that getting Filner out of City Hall in a matter of days instead of what likely would have been months with a recall vote was worth the cost.
“This settlement represents an end to our city’s nightmare and allows us to heal,” proclaimed City Council President Todd Gloria, who will be acting mayor until Filner’s successor wins office in a special election.
Now, the City Council must set that election within 90 days, and several high-profile contenders are expected to consider running, U-T San Diego (the newspaper formerly known as the San Diego Union-Tribune) reports. They include former Councilman Carl DeMaio, Councilman Kevin Faulconer, former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, Council President Gloria, former state Sen. Christine Kehoe and Assemblywoman Toni Atkins. Fletcher filed his intention to run with the City Clerk on Tuesday.
If no one wins a majority, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff within 49 days later.
Filner's troubles may not be over.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department has interviewed the mayor's former communications director – Irene McCormack Jackson, who has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Filner and the city – and opened a hotline to field any additional complaints about Filner, the Associated Press reports. Investigators will deliver their findings to the California attorney general's office to consider any possible criminal prosecution.