By James R. Riffel
SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Mayor Bob Filner today rebuffed a chorus of calls for his resignation in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual harassment, but said he will take two weeks away from the job to seek behavioral therapy.
His two-week break will begin Aug. 5 and end Aug. 19.
Speaking to a packed room of reporters, Filner, 70, again apologized for what he called a failure to respect women and for his “intimidating conduct.”
“However, words alone are not enough,” he said. “I am responsible for my conduct and I must take responsibility for my conduct by taking action so that such conduct does not ever happen again.”
Filner said he would enter a “behavior counseling clinic to undergo two weeks of intensive therapy.” He didn’t specify whether the clinic was in San Diego or elsewhere.
During the time he is away, he will receive daily briefings on city business, he said. The City Council is not scheduled to meet next month.
Since the allegations were first aired two weeks ago, the former congressman has faced a torrent of criticism and calls for his resignation.
Earlier Friday, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, called Filner’s alleged misconduct “reprehensible and indefensible” and called on the mayor to step down “for the good of the city of San Diego.”
Shortly before Filner spoke, land-use consultant Michael Pallamary delivered a letter to the mayor’s office demanding that he step down by Monday at 5 p.m. or face a recall campaign. A “Recall Bob Filner” Facebook page Pallamary started last month has garnered nearly 6,400 “likes.”
The website Voiceofsandiego.org has reported that LGBT activist Stampp Corbin, the owner and publisher of LGBT Weekly, took out an advertisement in U-T San Diego to signal his intent to start a recall campaign.
Pallamary or Corbin will need to collect about 102,000 valid signatures to qualify a recall election for a citywide ballot.
In response to the mayor’s decision to take time off and seek therapy, Councilman Mark Kersey said, “Mayor Filner needs to wrestle with his demons as a private citizen — not on the public’s time or the taxpayer’s dime. Our employees should not have to work under this cloud of controversy, and the victims should not have to wait any longer for the justice they deserve.”
The embattled mayor began his remarks by condemning his own actions.
“Let me be absolutely clear,” Filner said. “The behavior I have engaged in over many years is wrong. My failure to respect women and the intimidating conduct I engaged in at times is inexcusable.
“It has undermined what I have spent my whole professional life doing and working on, and that is fighting for equality and justice for all people,” he said. “It is simply not acceptable for me to try to explain away my conduct as the product of the standards of a different generation.”
He went on to apologize to “the people of San Diego” and “most of all” to “the women I have offended.”
His news conference was interrupted when the audio system failed, cutting off the multiple live television and Internet feeds of his remarks.
Filner stepped back into his office while the system was repaired, and returned about 10 minutes later and went through his remarks in their entirety.
He finished by saying, “And my hope is that by becoming a better person, I put myself in a position to someday be forgiven. However, before I can even think of asking for forgiveness, I need to demonstrate that my behavior has changed. And that will only happen over time and only if such incidents never, ever happen again.”
Filner made his remarks a day after the San Diego Democratic Party Central Committee voted 34-6 to condemn his actions and demand his resignation.
“We are not here to determine guilt or innocence,” party Chairwoman Francine Busby said. However, in the best interest of the city, the San Diego County Democratic Party has voted to ask Mayor Filner to step down, seek the personal help that he needs, and allow San Diego to move forward.”
Also Thursday, four prominent women stepped forward to publicly accuse Filner of unwanted sexual advances and groping — bringing the total number of women making public allegations to seven.
The four, who appeared on KPBS, were retired Navy Rear Adm. Ronne Froman, businesswoman Patti Roscoe, San Diego State University dean Joyce Gattas, and Sharon Bernie-Cloward, president of the Port of San Diego’s Tenants Association.
Froman said she was at Filner’s congressional office a couple of years ago for a meeting on a veterans program and when the meeting ended, “Bob stepped between me and the doorway and he stopped me, got very close to me and he ran his finger up my cheek like this and he whispered to me, ‘Do you have a man in your life?’” She said she did and jumped backward.
“I was really rattled,” Froman said.
Bernie-Cloward said that in 2010, Filner pulled her aside and asked why she didn’t accept a lunch invitation five years earlier. Then, last year while Filner was running for mayor, he encountered her again following an event in Mission Valley.
“He came up and gave me a hug, and he touched me — actually groped me — on my backside, inappropriately,” Bernie-Cloward said. “As soon as he came in, he left, and I was left there startled and fearful. In fact, I had somebody walk me to my car that night.”
Roscoe, who said she knows Filner well, said he would try to kiss her and placed her in the so-called “Filner headlock.” She said he “slobbered down her chin.”
“I was so violated and I was so offended,” Roscoe said. “On other occasions, he’s gotten close to me and put his hands on inappropriate places on my body. It’s just such a terrible invasion.”
Gattas said she was subjected to inappropriate kissing, touching, hugging and sexual comments.
The sheriff’s department has created a hotline for women who believe they are victims at 619-481-0220.
Councilmembers react to Filner's statement
SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A majority of the San Diego City Council on Friday said embattled Mayor Bob Filner should resign before he undergoes counseling for his alleged mistreatment of women, while one member called for his arrest.
Council President Todd Gloria said Filner is prolonging the city of San Diego’s pain by choosing to undergo two weeks of behavioral therapy.
“The mayor has finally acknowledged his very serious disorder which prevents his ability to govern and seriously affects his ability to interact with people,” Councilman Todd Gloria said in a statement emailed to reporters.
“As would be the case with any leader in government or business, the standard he has to uphold is greater than to simply get treatment.”
He renewed his call for the mayor to resign and said “the time for indecisiveness and inaction is over.”
“While Mr. Filner is choosing to continue to undermine the ability to run the city efficiently and effectively, I want to reassure the people of San Diego that my Council colleagues, city employees, and I remain focused on the providing the services citizens expect from your government,” Gloria said.
He was one of five members of the City Council to provide reaction to Filner’s decision to seek therapy. While Gloria is a Democrat, the others are part of the panel’s Republican minority.
Councilman Scott Sherman issued a one-sentence statement: “San Diegans should accept nothing less than Bob Filner’s resignation and/or arrest.”
Councilman Kevin Faulconer said two weeks of therapy won’t end “decades of bad behavior.”
“Bob Filner should leave to receive the help he obviously needs, but he shouldn’t take the office of the mayor and San Diego city government with him,” Faulconer said. “He needs to resign and seek long-term treatment as a private citizen.”
Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said the mayor continued to put his needs in front of the victims’ and San Diego residents.
“He is the mayor of the eighth largest city in the country and he must be held to a higher standard,” Zapf said. “By not stepping down, it is an insult to the victims, and an insult to women everywhere.”
Councilman Mark Kersey said, “Mayor Filner needs to wrestle with his demons as a private citizen, not on the public’s time or the taxpayer’s dime. Our employees should not have to work under this cloud of controversy, and the victims should not have to wait any longer for the justice they deserve.”
All of the GOP members on the technically nonpartisan council have called on Filner to step down. Of the Democrats, only Gloria and David Alvarez have made such demands.
The other Democrats on the panel — Myrtle Cole, Marti Emerald and Sherri Lightner — have publicly either supported the mayor or refused comment.
Cole’s office said her position backing the mayor’s due process rights have not changed. A spokesman for Emerald said she wouldn’t comment since she is out of town all month at a training session at Harvard University.
Lightner’s office has not returned phone messages from City News Service.
High-profile Los Angeles-based attorney Gloria Allred reiterated her call for Filner to resign.
“I view his decision to seek therapy as a ploy to stay in power and to try to gain sympathy,” said Allred, who represents the first alleged victim to step forward, former mayoral Communications Director Irene McCormack Jackson.
“If he feels that he needs therapy, he should resign first and then seek it,” Allred said. “It is ridiculous to think that he needs therapy in order to understand that women deserve respect and should not be treated like pieces of meat.”
Also, Denise Montgomery, the mayor’s recent appointee to lead the city’s Commission on Arts and Culture, stepped down in light of the allegations.
“I wrestled with this decision out of commitment to the arts and culture community, however, I cannot in good conscience remain part of the Filner administration,” Montgomery said.
The commission receives city money, which it distributes to area arts organizations.