It’s not as if San Diego hasn’t had plenty of civic scandals in the past, but you don’t get too many news conferences like the one that went down Monday morning in front of San Diego City Hall.
After days of references to “unspecified” allegations of sexual harassment against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, three of his former supporters (a one-time city councilwoman and two attorneys) gathered before a bank of microphones and told stories about Filner that would have been shocking 20 years ago, let alone in 2013.
If the stories are true, Filner, a Democrat who spent two decades in Congress, sounds like a walking id, not someone who should be in charge of California’s second-largest city.
Also, if they are true, his bad behavior could cost taxpayers a pretty penny. This won’t go over well with San Diegans, who are so tight with a dollar they don’t even like to raise taxes for fire protection.
Donna Frye, the former city councilwoman, said last week it was one of the most painful moments of her career to come forward against her friend and political ally.
But God bless her. On Monday, she recounted the claims of two female constituents, who said they were assaulted by Filner. The stories have different settings, but they are remarkably similar and both end with Filner, 70, trying to force himself on them.
“I want to kiss you, you are so beautiful,” the mayor allegedly said to a campaign volunteer before grabbing her on a sidewalk and “jamming his tongue down her throat.” She pushed him away, but she had agreed to give him a ride and didn’t want to be rude. While she was deciding what to do, Frye said, the mayor “quickly had his hand on the inside of her bra and was again trying to put his tongue down her throat.”
Attorney Marco Gonzalez, who would not reveal how many women he is representing, said women have become fearful of what has been dubbed the “Filner headlock.” Gonzalez described the move as something Filner does to immobilize women before performing the Filner tongue jam.
“It occurs in the office, it occurs at fundraisers, it occurs when there is a woman present the mayor would like to sequester,” said Gonzalez. “He puts his arm around her shoulder, pulls it in tighter around her neck. The woman believes the mayor just wants to talk to her, and gets pulled away from the group where she can’t be overheard. And then he begins: ‘Are you married? You got a boyfriend? … Come on, you know you love me. Just give me a kiss. Let’s go up to my office, no one will know.’”
In an effort to wriggle away, the women engage in what Gonzalez called the “Filner dance.”
Oh yes. Last week, Filner’s fiancee, Bronwyn Ingram, broke off their engagement. On Monday, she revealed that he was unfaithful and abusive. She had heard he was sleeping around, and during a recent trip to Paris he screamed at her in public. “As Bob’s behavior continued to become more aggressive standard decorum seemed to disappear,” she told KPBS radio. “Bob recently began texting other women sexually explicit messages and setting up dates while in my presence and within my line of vision.”
This doesn’t sound like a problem, it sounds like a disease.
“Bob Filner is tragically unsafe for any woman to approach,” Frye said, whose voice rose to a shout Monday. “We want the women of this city, and the people who love them, to know that sexual abuse and this behavior is not normal, not their fault, and they are not to blame. Bob Filner is to blame! And he needs to resign! ... Help us stop this horrible, horrible, civic nightmare.”
The good news: The top levels of city government seem to get it. A very highly placed official said, “It’s a good thing that behavior that would have been tolerated in the past is being called out in this generation for what it is: inappropriate and wrong.”
The bad news: The official was Mayor Filner himself, virtually admitting to misdeeds in a video that was released last week. He apologized, vowed to change and promised to undergo sexual harassment training.
“I have diminished the office to which you have elected me,” he added. “When a friend like Donna Frye is compelled to ask for my resignation, I am clearly doing something wrong .… I must and will change my behavior …. I need help.”
But the mayor has insisted he will not resign, that he is not guilty of sexual harassment and that he is entitled to “due process.”
On Monday, Gonzalez said that one of his clients, a woman who has worked for the mayor for six months, alleges that Filner has grabbed her bottom and her breasts. At one point, she told her attorney, he came into her office and tried to kiss her. When she ordered him out, Filner allegedly told her, “I’m the mayor. You can’t kick me out of any office.”
Tell that to the voters.