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Ex-Legislator: I Warned Democratic Party About Filner Two Years Ago

Former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña says she told the Democratic Party that Filner had physically or verbally harassed six prominent women. She won’t name names.

The local Democratic Party has known for a long time about sexual harassment allegations against Bob Filner, a former Democratic assemblywoman said in a Thursday interview.

“I blew the whistle on this two years ago to the Democratic Party leadership,” former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña said.

Saldaña said that in summer 2011 six prominent women in local politics, business and education told her that Filner had physically or verbally harassed them. Saldaña had been exploring what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid for Congress and the conversations came in the context of the 2012 elections.

Saldaña said she contacted former party Chairman Jess Durfee with the allegations and Durfee was among a group of Democratic leaders who met with Filner to discuss them that summer. She said nothing happened.

“As disgraceful as Bob’s behavior has been, it’s been tolerated by our Democratic Party leadership,” she said.

Saldaña said Filner never personally harassed her and declined to say who alleged to have had run-ins with the mayor. She said former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, who is calling for Filner’s resignation over unspecified sexual harassment allegations, inspired her to talk.

Saldaña has a long history of conflict with Filner, most prominently over a failed border sewage treatment project about a decade ago. She also wound up endorsing him for mayor.

Party leaders, she said, made it clear that if people didn’t support Filner they wouldn’t receive their support again.

Durfee, the former party chairman, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Current party Chairwoman Francine Busby released a statement after the allegations broke Wednesday saying she and the party take sexual harassment claims very seriously and that they’re awaiting the mayor’s response.

Update: Former Democratic Party Chairman Jess Durfee confirmed to U-T San Diego that Saldaña complained to him about Filner’s conduct. “He assured me there was nothing to be concerned about,” Durfee told the U-T. Filner also assured Durfee that no one had filed a sexual harassment complaint against him and that he had many female staffers. Durfee also said that he asked the women who spoke with Saldaña to contact him, but none did.

Update II: Busby responded to tell me that party leaders looked at Filner’s 30-year record of advocating for progressive causes when evaluating him as a candidate for mayor. Discussions involving Filner’s poor treatment of women never rose above rumor, she said.

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