San Diego Mayor Bob Filner on Friday finally bowed to the calls for his resignation, which have been mounting for weeks as numerous women accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior. But to the bitter end, he insisted the political downfall was worse punishment than he deserved.
“It certainly was never my intention to be a mayor who went out like this,” Filner said in announcing that, as part of a deal with city officials, he would leave office Aug. 30.
Filner, who has been accused of inappropriate behavior by 18 women over the past six weeks, apologized to the city. He apologized to his estranged fiancée. And he apologized to the women who had come forward.
“I had no intention to be offensive, to violate any physical or emotional space,” he said before a packed room in the city council’s chambers. “I was trying to establish personal relationships but the combination of awkwardness and hubris led to behavior that many found offensive.”
Still, the 70-year-old Democrat went out asserting that what was admittedly bad behavior had been blown out of proportion by his political opponents and the media. The first Democrat to hold the office in decades, Filner accused those opposed to his progressive agenda of inciting a movement against him.
“I am responsible for providing the ammunition,” he said, “but there are well-organized interests who have run this city for 50 years who pointed the gun, and the media and their political agents pulled the trigger.”
Irene McCormack-Jackson, the mayor’s former communications director, is suing Filner and the city for sexual harassment. It was unclear exactly how the lawsuit, filed by the prominent lawyer Gloria Allred, would fit into the picture. On Thursday, Allred held a news conference and advised the city not to pay the mayor’s bills.
“We do not know the details of the reported deal,” she said, “and we have not approved it.”
A San Diego ABC affiliate reported Friday that in mediation talks, Allred had sought a $1.5 million settlement for her client, who has alleged that Filner asked her to come to work without wearing her “panties” and repeatedly forced her into contact using a maneuver women have dubbed the “Filner headlock.”
Before Filner spoke, the city attorney said the agreement that paved the way for Filner’s resignation includes the city dismissing a complaint against Filner and aiding in his defense, though there will be a $98,000 cap on the amount the city will spend defending the mayor. Filner said that nothing he did ever rose to the level of sexual harassment and that if the public knew all the facts, he would be vindicated.
“The hysteria that has been created… is the hysteria of a lynch mob,” he said. “Democracy needs due process. San Diego needs due process.”
Supporters cheered him on, though the room remained largely silent. Less than an hour before, the same room had been filled with citizens loudly expressing support or disdain for the mayor before the city council adjourned to consider the deal in a closed-door meeting. Many residents expressed frustration that they were commenting blindly; at that point, none of the terms reached after three days of closed-door mediation among Filner and city officials had been made public.
“Do not let this man off. Do not pay a dime of taxpayer money to this man,” one said.
“He is an honorable person who did a lot for me and my community,” said another.
As dozens of citizens cycled past the microphone, the crowd defied instructions to be quiet. They clapped and cheered and booed as they listened to demands for justice, allegations of Republican conspiracies and laments about what a laughing stock San Diego had become.
Some cried, thanking the former congressman and first-term mayor for his public service. Others waved petitions, covered in signatures from residents supporting a now-moot recall election. One of the 18 women appeared, with her voice wavering. “Today I stand shoulder to shoulder with the other women who have come forward asking the mayor to resign,” said the woman, political consultant Laura Fink.
After Filner finished what may have been his final public words as mayor of San Diego, he went to shake the hand of one citizen who had spoken out on the mayor’s behalf earlier that afternoon.
“We will always remember those that stood with us,” that man had said. “It’s time to unite, forgive and move the city forward.”