San Diego Mayor Bob Filner Digs in as Sex Harassment Troubles Mount

As a woman comes forward, putting a face to anonymous allegations, the former Congressman's prospects start to look bleak

  • Share
  • Read Later
City of San Diego / AP

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner apologizes for his behavior in this frame from a video produced by the city of San Diego, July 11, 2013.

For nearly two weeks, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has refused to resign in the face of sexual harassment allegations, apologizing for any misbehavior while maintaining his innocence. It has been an awkward dance of acknowledgement and resistance, and one made easier by the anonymity of his accusers. That changed Monday when Irene McCormack Jackson, the mayor’s former communications director, accused Filner of sexual harassment in a lawsuit against him and the nation’s eighth largest city.

“There have been a number of press articles referring to Mayor Filner and suggesting he asked a woman to work without her panties,” McCormack Jackson’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, said at a press conference. “Irene is the woman.”

Filner, a 10-term congressman known as a cantankerous man of the people, is the most liberal mayor of the traditionally conservative port town and the first Democrat to hold the job in two decades. But Filner’s tenure, begun just eight months ago, may be derailed by the mounting accusations. On July 9, his fiancée publicly dumped him in a cryptic letter citing “the devolvement of our personal relationship.”

Two days later, a former city councilwoman–and erstwhile Filner supporter—publicly accused the mayor of chronically inappropriate behavior towards women, such as unwanted kissing, groping and a forced embrace maneuver dubbed the “Filner headlock.” (Lawyers of still-unknown accusers said attempts to avoid his advances were known as the “Filner dance.”) The City Council President has since advised relocating uncomfortable city employees to “alternative workspace” farther from the mayor’s office “to ensure a safe work environment and maintain productivity.”

Filner issued a vague video apology soon after the city councilwoman’s allegations, contritely furrowing his brow and conceding that he had “intimidated” and “failed to fully respect” women he worked with over the years. “I am also humbled to admit that I need help,” the 70-year old said. But, despite that recognition and mounting demands for his resignation or a recall election, Filner has planted his feet. Steve Erie, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, who has known Filner for decades, describes him as “a little Jekyll-Hyde”–a “champion of the underdog” who has “low impulse control” and a “hot temper.”

He seriously doubts that Filner will agree to resign anytime soon. “The more his back is to the wall,” Erie says, “the more he’s willing to fight.” McCormack Jackson, who worked as a journalist in San Diego for 25 years, is a former student of Erie’s. In an email, he described her as “credible.”

In the lawsuit, McCormack Jackson, 57, and Allred, a powerful women’s rights attorney whose high-profile cases include the woman whose harassment accusations derailed Herman Cain‘s 2012 presidential bid,  painted a damning picture. “Women were viewed by Mayor Filner as sexual objects or stupid idiots,” McCormack Jackson said at the press conference.

She alleged that he regularly made lewd comments, asked to “consummate” their relationship and moved her around like a “rag doll” in his eponymous headlock. Both she and Allred renewed calls for his resignation. In a statement issued after the suit was filed, Filner made clear he had no intention of doing so. “Once due process is allowed to unfold, I am certain there will be a better understanding of this situation,” he said. “I intend to defend myself vigorously and I know that justice will prevail.”