San Diego Mayor Bob Filner will step down after nine months capped by a flurry of sexual-harassment claims against the Democrat, the first in his party to lead the eighth-largest U.S. city in two decades.
Filner agreed yesterday to leave office on Aug. 30 after the City Council voted 7-0 for an agreement under which the city will defend him against noncriminal legal actions stemming from his behavior as mayor, which he attributed to “my own personal failures.”
“I offer deep apologies,” Filner, 70, told the council after the agreement was announced. “The city should not have to be put through this.” Still, he denied the fundamental claims made against him by Irene McCormack Jackson, his former spokeswoman, and more than a dozen other women.
“Not one allegation has been proven in court,” Filner said. “I have never sexually harassed anyone.”
Striking a defiant tone, the mayor denounced the campaign against him for the past six weeks and likened it to a “lynch mob” driven by political opportunists.
“The fight for control of this city has been vicious and bloody,” he said. “I can’t afford to continue this battle, even though I know that if given due process, I would be vindicated.”
Filner won office in November with 52 percent of the vote partly because of changes the council backed and voters approved for pensions for city workers. The alterations, including limits on benefits, helped labor unions rally support for the Democrat’s bid. Once he leaves, a special election will be held within 90 days to replace him, giving Republicans a chance to recapture the post.
“Bob Filner’s politics were popular, just not his personality,” Carl Luna, who teaches politics at San Diego Mesa College, said in an interview before the deal was accepted.
Council members said the accord will restore stability to a government rocked by lurid claims of unwanted kisses, graphic sexual descriptions and headlocks used by the divorced mayor.
“This settlement represents an end to our civic nightmare and allows the city to begin to heal,” Council President Todd Gloria, a 35-year-old Democrat who will temporarily assume the mayor’s powers, said after the closed-door vote was announced.
Filner made few public appearances after July 11, when three former supporters publicly accused him of making unwanted advances and inappropriate comments toward multiple women. Less than two weeks later, McCormack Jackson sued the mayor and the city, becoming the first of 18 women to make public their complaints about his behavior. None of the others have sued.
By the time the council gathered yesterday, all of its members had joined California’s Democratic U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer in calling for Filner’s resignation. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a U.S. representative from Florida and the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, told him last month he should resign. A poll showed 81 percent of San Diego’s adults wanted him out. Still, Filner had resisted.
The agreement won’t shield the city of 1.3 million from having to pay damages related to harassment claims, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said. San Diego could still sue Filner for reimbursement for all such claims except the one from McCormack Jackson, Goldsmith said. In that case, Filner will only be responsible for any punitive damages that may result.
The accord caps the city’s legal costs to defend Filner at $98,000, Goldsmith said, adding that it won’t “significantly” increase municipal expenses.
“I don’t know of all of the potential claims,” Goldsmith said in an interview after the vote about other legal actions that may emerge. He said the risks involved weren’t unique.
The council approved the settlement with Filner after a public hearing in which more than 20 people urged the members to reject any deal that might use taxpayer money on Filner’s behalf. Several said the council should leave it to a recall campaign, which began Aug. 18, to remove Filner from office.
A drive for almost 102,000 signatures for the effort had already collected about 20,000 in its first six days, recall leader Michael Pallamary said. Others said a popular vote to repudiate Filner was a better solution.
“We have become a national laughingstock,” Mike Slater, a radio talk-show host, told the council. “Only a full recall can prove to the country that we can take care of this on our own.”