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Filner Under Fire: What We Know — and What We Don't

Catch up on who’s still supporting the mayor, who’s running the city right now and what the civil and criminal explanations are.

In less than a week, Bob Filner has seen his mayoralty threatened under the weight of sexual harassment accusations leveled by some of his previously most ardent supporters.

We’ll catch you up on the scandal’s essentials.

What Do We Know?

Filner has been accused of sexually harassment and battery against his supporters, constituents and staff since he took office in December.

The allegations include Filner jamming his tongue down the throat of a supporter and reaching under her bra, kissing another constituent at the end of a City Hall meeting and grabbing the buttocks and chest of one of his employees.

Three progressive former backers of Filner, former City Councilwoman Donna Frye and attorneys Cory Briggs and Marco Gonzalez, leveled the charges against him. They say they’re speaking on behalf of several women because the women fear the publicity and retribution of speaking out themselves.

What Don’t We Know?

We don’t know the names of those allegedly involved in these incidents or when they’re supposed to have happened. We also haven’t heard publicly from any accuser.

Who Wants Him to Resign?

Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs first asked him to resign in letters last Tuesday, and asked again at two press conferences since then.

“Bob Filner is tragically unsafe for any woman to approach,” Frye said.

Six of nine City Council members have called for his resignation. Filner’s closest ally on the council, David Alvarez, initially supported him but changed his mind Friday evening after saying he heard a first-hand account of sexual harassment.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who as a labor leader is credited with getting Filner elected in November, said the mayor should resign. Lorena Gonzalez is the sister of Marco Gonzalez.  Other Democratic politicians calling on Filner to resign include Reps. Susan Davis and Scott Peters and Assemblywoman Toni Atkins.

How Has the Mayor Reacted?

Filner has become increasingly defiant.

His initial videotaped statement last Thursday included an apology to San Diegans and an admission that he intimidated and “failed to fully respect” his female employees. He also pledged to seek help.

He released a statement Friday emphasizing that he was innocent of sexual harassment. On Monday morning, he said any investigation would vindicate him.

“I’m a very demonstrative person. I express myself demonstratively,” Filner told KUSI Monday. “I’m a hugger. Of both men and women. As it turns out that those are taken in an offensive manner, I need to have a greater self-awareness about what I am doing and we will correct that. And I am taking those steps.”

Filner has rejected all calls to resign.

Who’s Supporting the Mayor?

Three Democratic City Councilwomen, Sherri Lightner, Myrtle Cole and Marti Emerald, have not called on Filner to resign. They back his decision to seek help.

“I commend Mayor Filner for the courage to admit he has made mistakes and for his commitment to change his behavior,” Emerald said. “I hope the people of San Diego will support Mayor Filner in his effort to make a change and continue to make a positive difference in our city.”

The local Democratic Party also is backing Filner, but is meeting Thursday to discuss a further response.

What Are the Civil and Criminal Implications of All This?

So far, no civil or criminal agency has announced an investigation into the mayor’s conduct. No one has filed a lawsuit, either.

Gonzalez said the Filner staffer he represents plans to file a complaint with the city. Alvarez said he reported what he was told to the city’s Human Resources Department.

Based on the public allegations against Filner, he could face both sexual harassment charges, which are most often civil, and more serious criminal sexual battery charges.

Filner’s hired local employment attorney Harvey Berger to defend him. (Here’s Berger’s bio.) Filner said he’s paying Berger himself now, but plans to speak with the city attorney and council members about covering his bills.

“I would hope that the public would give me the benefit of presumption of innocence,” Filner told KUSI. “The public would demand that all this be in a fair, due process manner. That the public finally says to the people who are making them, ‘Hey are they real or not?’ If they are, make the charges, let Bob know what they are, defend himself if necessary and a fair process will produce, I think, fair results.”

Who’s Running the City?

Filner announced a staff shakeup on Monday: He hired well-respected former county administrator Walt Ekard to manage City Hall and ceded contract-signing authority to him. Filner also brought in his congressional chief of staff, Tony Buckles, to take over for Vince Hall, who resigned Friday.

At least 11 Filner staffers have left the city or transferred out of his office since the mayor’s term began in December.

The city still is missing permanent hires in numerous key departments, and has big projects and civic festivals coming soon, including an $80 million loan for street and infrastructure repairs and a Balboa Park anniversary celebration in 2015.

Should We Have Known About All These Issues Sooner?

Complaints about Filner’s aggressive tactics and treatment of his staff have a long history during his more than three decades in San Diego politics. He’s said he’s a hard driver of staff members and the more pugnacious elements of his persona date back to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. In 2007, a court ordered him to pay a fine and apologize to a female airport baggage clerk after Filner harangued her. He pleaded the equivalent of guilty to misdemeanor trespass in the case.

Rumors have circulated about Filner and women troubles for a long time. When the mayoral campaign started, former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña told Democratic Party officials six prominent women in local politics, business and education had said Filner had physically or verbally harassed them. At the time, Filner told the then-Democratic Party chairman that there was nothing to worry about.

Filner’s opponent in the mayoral election, Carl DeMaio, received an anonymous letter claiming to be from two women who work for or around Filner when he was a congressman. They said he acted “relentless and disgusting and sometimes unforgiving” to any single woman he found attractive.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Filner’s not going anywhere.

He’s made it clear in numerous interviews and statements that he’s not going to resign. And Frye et al are running out of ways to try to publicly shame the mayor without resorting to formal civil or criminal charges.

If San Diegans try to remove Filner through office through a recall, they’ll face huge financial and organizational hurdles. The city’s recall provision also likely is unconstitutional.

All signs point to an ongoing war of attrition between the mayor and those who want him out of office.

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