SAN DIEGO — After six weeks of scandal and demands for his ouster, Mayor Bob Filner has agreed to resign just eight months into his first term as part of a proposed mediation deal reached with city officials over his sexual harassment lawsuit, sources familiar with the negotiations said Thursday.
At least 18 women have publicly accused the 70-year-old Democrat of sexual misconduct, including a former aide who filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the city and Filner.
As more women went public with accusations, public opinion polls showed that a large majority of residents wanted Filner out.
In exchange for his resignation, the city will pay some, if not all, of Filner’s legal fees and his share of any damages awarded in the lawsuit, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. One estimate is that the agreement will cost the city several hundred thousand dollars.
Filner’s decision to resign came after three days of closed-door mediation. The City Council is set to vote on the proposed settlement in a closed session Friday. Under the city charter, a special election would have to be held within 90 days to find a successor.
The lawsuit against Filner was filed July 22 by Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred on behalf of Irene McCormack Jackson, Filner’s former director of communications.
In a news conference Thursday, Allred said that although she does not know the details of the mediation deal, it would be “morally repugnant” for the city to “make a gift of public funds” to Filner so that he can, in effect, continue to fight against the lawsuit.
“Our lawsuit is not settled,” Allred said.
Allred said that Filner should offer “a resignation without conditions.” A deal from City Council to make a financial settlement in exchange for his resignation would represent “a callous and unholy agreement,” she said.
Three former allies of Filner went public with accusations on July 11, setting off a scandal that quickly mushroomed when one woman after another came forward to allege groping, forced kisses or inappropriate language by the mayor.
Phrases like the “Filner headlock” and “Filner dance” were used to describe how he immobilized women while he made unwanted advances.
His accusers included three business executives, two college officials, two military veterans, a Navy admiral, two singers, three city employees and a nurse.
Jackson said she took a $50,000 pay cut to join Filner’s staff because she believed in his political agenda. Instead, she said, she found that Filner was verbally abusive to her and others and that he once told her she would do better work if she would not wear panties.
All nine members of the council — five Democrats and four Republicans — have demanded for weeks that Filner resign.
Council President Todd Gloria and Councilman Kevin Faulconer said that city government has been paralyzed and cannot function properly while Filner is mayor. When Filner leaves, Gloria will assume added duties until an election is held.
“We need a mayor who can lead,” Faulconer said Tuesday, before the mediation deal was reached. “When it’s national news if your mayor even shows up for work, you know your city has a problem.”
Gloria and Faulconer were part of the mediation negotiations, along with Filner, his three attorneys, City Atty. Jan Goldsmith and two deputy city attorneys. The negotiations were overseen by retired federal Judge J. Lawrence Irving.
Goldsmith announced Wednesday night that a deal has been reached but added that no details would be publicly released until the council meeting on Friday.
Filner was seen later Wednesday night loading boxes into an SUV parked in front of City Hall after saying farewell to his staff and cleaning out his office.
Filner, a former San Diego State history professor who had served on the San Diego school board, City Council and then 10 terms in the Congress, was elected in November as the city’s first Democratic mayor in two decades.
Starting with his activism as a Freedom Rider in the 1960s, Filner was known as a strong supporter of civil rights, military veterans and San Diego residents, many of them minorities, who felt shunned by city government.
“For many people, Filner coming to office was a time of hope and expectation — many of whom had never before felt connected to San Diego’s politics or governance,” said George Mitrovich, president of the City Club of San Diego. “Those expectations have been brutally crushed by a mayor who allowed his ill-temper and narcissism to destroy whatever good he had hoped to accomplish.”
Even as mediation talks leading to Filner’s ouster were being held, a small band of supporters held a rally outside City Hall on Monday pleading with him not to resign. Many felt that conservative business interests were using the allegations of sexual harassment to oust him.
“It’s a very sad day in the history of San Diego when the old-boys network is allowed to put on a circus and make a mockery of the judicial system,” rally organizer Enrique Morones said as news spread Thursday about the impending resignation.
But John Kern, who was chief of staff to the last mayor to resign, Dick Murphy, said that Filner had lost the ability to lead.
“Whatever the legal aspects,” Kern said, “one simply cannot govern without a base of support and confidence of your colleagues and the electorate. It is clear all of that disappeared for Filner.”
Joining Allred at her news conference was Bronwyn Ingram, Filner’s former fiancee. She ended their relationship days before the first accusations went public. In an email to supporters, she said she had caught Filner trying to make dates with other women.
Ingram said she hoped that Filner’s political ideals are not forgotten by candidates seeking to succeed him. The time has come, she said, for San Diego to become what its unofficial motto suggests, America’s Finest City.
For weeks, even with an avalanche of negative publicity, Filner had resisted calls that he resign. He apologized for misconduct toward women, hired new staff and entered two weeks of behavioral therapy. But nothing cooled the controversy.
Filner will be the fourth of the last seven San Diego mayors to leave early.
Pete Wilson resigned in 1983 after being elected to the U.S. Senate. Roger Hedgecock was ousted in 1985 by his felony conviction for conspiracy and perjury. Dick Murphy resigned in 2005 because he thought it best for the city to have a fresh start in dealing with its pension woes, he said.
After being gone for several weeks, Filner appeared briefly at City Hall to talk to his staff Wednesday afternoon before returning to the last mediation session. He refused to answer questions from the press.
“Nice to see you guys,” he told reporters.
He returned later to clean out his office.