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Piece by piece over the last 12 days, San Diegans have heard increasing details of sexual harassment accusations against Mayor Bob Filner. Monday afternoon, the biggest piece of the puzzle came forward. In doing so, she called the mayor’s bluff.
Irene McCormack, formerly the mayor’s top spokeswoman, revealed herself as one of the city staffers allegedly harassed by Filner, and called on him to resign. She told a roomful of cameras and reporters at a downtown hotel that the mayor had put her in a headlock and dragged her around while making sexually explicit comments. That after she had resisted a sexual advance inside her office, Filner told her that as mayor he couldn’t be kicked out of any office at City Hall. That Filner told her she would work better without her panties on.
“He is not fit to be mayor of our great city,” McCormack said. “He is not fit to hold any public office. A man who lacks character makes a mockery of his ideas.”
McCormack made her comments after filing a sexual harassment lawsuit earlier Monday and alongside her celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who has made a career out of these kinds of big-name suits. McCormack’s lawsuit puts in black and white many of the grossest allegations against the mayor, laying out a pattern of his near constant sexual solicitations of her.
McCormack also puts substantial credibility behind the allegations. She spent decades as a well-respected journalist with the San Diego Union-Tribune, where she covered public safety and the 2003 wildfires, and then almost 10 years as an executive with the Unified Port of San Diego.
When McCormack entered the room for the press conference, assembled reporters buzzed, “It’s Irene. It’s Irene.”
Where this leaves the state of Filner’s mayorship is unclear.
Filner did not make a public response Monday in the hours after the press conference. Before McCormack’s revelation, he had become more defiant with each statement he issued since the allegations broke July 10. Filner had made clear he had no intention of resigning, and has argued that responding to anonymous allegations against him would violate his due process. This stance practically dared his accusers to come forward.
Filner also said that any independent inquiry would clear his name. With McCormack’s lawsuit, he’s now gotten the public accusations and the courtroom that he asked for.
Update: Filner released a statement at 5:30 p.m. on the lawsuit. He doesn’t appear to explicitly deny the allegations, but says he does not “believe these claims are valid.”
Here’s the statement in full: “I am saddened by the charges that were leveled against me today. Once due process is allowed to unfold, I am certain there will be a better understanding of this situation.
I remain committed to the people of San Diego and the work that needs to be done. My dreams and plans for moving this City to new heights are continuing. I humbly ask that through this vicious storm of controversy, people take a moment and temper their rush to judgment.
I do not believe these claims are valid. That is why due process is so important. I intend to defend myself vigorously and I know that justice will prevail.”