SAN DIEGO — Facing calls for his resignation amid sexual harassment allegations, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner apologized Thursday for his treatment of women and vowed to change his behavior, admitting: "I need help."
"I have reached into my heart and soul and realize I must and will change my behavior," the 70-year-old liberal Democrat said in a video statement, indicating he would not resign. He said he and his staff would take the sexual harassment training offered by the city.
"If my behavior doesn't change, I cannot succeed in leading this city," Filner said.
Filner issued the statement hours after three friends and supporters, speaking at an emotional news conference, called on him to step down for what one called "truly reprehensible" behavior toward several women on his staff.
No details of the allegations were revealed.
Former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, her voice breaking, said the women "are too scared to speak." Attorney Cory Briggs said his message to the women is, "When you're ready to file lawsuits, I'll be standing in court."
Frye, Briggs and attorney Marco Gonzalez said the women want to remain out of the media spotlight. Briggs asked reporters not to attempt to find out the women's names and interview them.
The three will not respond to Filner's apology until Friday after they have spoken to the women, Gonzalez said.
The allegations and Filner's response rocked the city, which since the early 1980s has seen two mayors, Roger Hedgecock and Dick Murphy, leave office before their terms ended because of scandal. Former Mayor Maureen O'Connor, who served from 1986 to 1992, admitted this year in federal court that she skimmed more than $2 million from her late husband's charitable foundation to feed her gambling addiction.
"Mayor Filner's escalating scandals have eliminated his ability to effectively govern," said Kevin Faulconer, one of the three Republicans on the council to call for him to resign.
Tony Krvaric, chairman of the county Republican Party, expressed outrage in a series of tweets, including one asserting that "Democratic and union leaders have been covering for [Filner's] lewd behavior for years. What did they know and when did they know it?"
David Rolland, editor of CityBeat of San Diego, a weekly that endorsed Filner for mayor, tweeted that "Even though CityBeat was afraid of something like this, we still endorsed Filner over [Carl] DeMaio," a Republican.
Francine Busby, chairwoman of the county Democratic Party, expressed disappointment in Filner but urged San Diego residents to give him "an opportunity to live up to his word" that he can change a behavior pattern that is "particularly damaging when the public trust is involved."
In a DVD released to the media, Filner said: "As someone who has spent a lifetime fighting for equality for all people, I am embarrassed to admit that I have failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me, and that at times I have intimidated them."
Except for the DVD and a written statement, Filner had no further comment and was not available for questions.
Filner has traced his confrontational style of politics to his experience as a Freedom Rider in the segregated South during the 1960s, when he spent two months in a Mississippi jail. A former history professor at San Diego State, Filner served on the school board and the City Council before being elected to 10 terms in Congress.
Filner said he knows that San Diego residents "have every right to be disappointed" in him, but asked that "you give me an opportunity to prove I am capable of change, so that the vision I have for our city's future can be realized."
Elected mayor in November to succeed a termed-out Republican, Filner vowed to bring major change to city government, which he has said is run like an "old-boys network" to the disadvantage of women, minorities, neighborhood activists and public employees.
But his combative approach has resulted in a series of high-profile disputes, including a feud with the city attorney, a dispute with tourism industry leaders and verbal dust-ups with members of the City Council.
Federal officials are reportedly looking into a deal in which a developer donated $100,000 to two of Filner's pet projects — one for veterans, one for bicyclists — allegedly in exchange for Filner dropping his opposition to a land-use project. Filner has since returned the money.
Filner's fiancee, Bronwyn Ingram, sent an email to friends and supporters Monday announcing that she and the mayor had broken their engagement and ended their relationship. The email from Ingram, whom the twice-divorced Filner had referred to as San Diego's first lady, provided no details.
During the mayoral campaign, county Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis, who was defeated in the mayoral primary, criticized Filner for what she said was disrespect for women.
On Wednesday, Briggs, Gonzalez and Frye each sent letters to Filner calling on him to resign. At their news conference Thursday, the three repeated their call for him to "do the right thing" and step down.
The letter from Frye, first revealed by KPBS, mentions "credible evidence of more than one woman being sexually harassed by you. Despite past rumors, I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt.
"However, those who have spoken to me recently would not make the allegations lightly or without cause and I believe them. I cannot in good conscience remain silent."
The letter from Gonzalez mentions allegations about Filner's treatment of his staff, particularly the women. "Unfortunately, I and numerous of my colleagues have reached the point where we do not believe your behavior will change."
Frye, a former mayoral candidate, was key to Filner's mayoral campaign, with her sharp criticism of his opponent, then-Councilman DeMaio. After Filner was elected, she worked briefly as his director of open-government issues.
Filner seemed particularly stung by her stance. "When a friend like Donna Frye is compelled to call for my resignation," Filner said, "I'm clearly doing something wrong."