San Diego Mayor Bob Filner says he’ll undergo intensive therapy
SAN DIEGO — Mayor Bob Filner announced Friday that he will undergo two weeks of intensive therapy to improve his behavior toward women — a move that did little to quiet the calls for his resignation amid allegations of sexual harassment.
Filner told a packed City Hall news conference that he plans to go into an unnamed residential treatment program Aug. 5, where the 70-year-old mayor will be briefed each morning and evening on city business. He said he will return to City Hall on Aug. 19 ready to be “the best mayor I can be.”
Nothing in the statement suggested that Filner will relinquish any mayoral powers during the two weeks.
In his two-minute statement, Filner did not address the increasing demands that he resign. As in previous statements, he acknowledged treating women poorly but stopped short of admitting to sexual harassment. Soon after the first allegations were made, Filner said in a video: “I need help.”
City Council President Todd Gloria, a fellow Democrat, said Filner’s plan only “prolongs the pain he is inflicting on our city at a time when San Diegans are calling for an end to this civic nightmare.”
Councilman Kevin Faulconer, the senior Republican on the council, said that Filner “needs to resign and seek long-term treatment as a private citizen.”
The toughest denunciation came from Councilman Scott Sherman, a Republican: “San Diegans should accept nothing less than Bob Filner’s resignation and/or arrest.”
Seven women have publicly accused him of sexual misconduct, including a retired Navy admiral, a San Diego State University dean, a leader in the city’s tourism industry, and the head of a group of business owners who are tenants of the San Diego Port District.
Irene McCormack Jackson, his former communications director, sued him and the city Monday.
“I must become a better person,” Filner said, reading from a prepared statement. “And my hope is that by becoming a better person, I put myself in a position to someday be forgiven.
“However, before I can even think of asking for forgiveness, I need to demonstrate that my behavior has changed. And that will only happen over time and only if such incidents never, ever happen again.”
Filner apologized for behavior toward women “over many years” that he called disrespectful and intimidating. In a strong, clear voice, Filner said his conduct has undermined his long political career spent “fighting for equality and justice for all people.”
The city was served with a subpoena Friday requiring that Filner be deposed in Jackson’s lawsuit.
Jackson alleges that Filner often grabbed her in a headlock, made sexually inappropriate comments and once asked her to work without panties.
Gloria Allred, the Los Angeles attorney representing Jackson, said Filner is using “therapy as a ploy to stay in power and to try to gain sympathy.”
“It is ridiculous to think that he needs therapy in order to understand that women deserve respect and should not be treated like pieces of meat,” Allred said.
Gloria, the council president, noted that the City Charter provides no guidance in the case of a mayor leaving City Hall to seek therapy. As such, he said, the issue “requires us to ask in the strongest terms possible for the mayor’s resignation.”
The City Charter also contains no provision for impeachment. Without a resignation, the only means for ousting a mayor are a recall election or conviction of a felony. The leader of a possible recall movement said he will continue his efforts to oust Filner.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has opened a hotline to field accusations against Filner, but there is no indication that a criminal investigation is underway.
The news conference was interrupted when the mayor’s microphone went dead. Filner left the room, with reporters awaiting more details. Returning when the microphone problem was solved, Filner read his statement from the beginning.
Hearing of Filner’s promise to enter a residential treatment facility, Francine Busby, chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee, called it “absolutely the first step he needs to take because he needs to get this help.”
But she doubted whether the public or Filner’s alleged victims will think therapy is sufficient.
The committee voted Thursday night to call for Filner’s resignation. A week earlier, when Filner’s accusers had not yet gone public, the committee had declined to take such a step, saying more information was needed.
Elected in November, Filner is the city’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years, elected on promises to improve neighborhood services and break up the “old boys’ network” that he says has run City Hall for decades.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, on Friday morning called for Filner’s resignation “for the good of the city of San Diego.”
Though the sexual harassment allegations have received the most attention, Filner is also facing investigations by the City Council over a $100,000 donation by a land developer to two of his pet projects, and his use of public money for a trip last month to Paris to attend a rally staged by Iranian dissidents.
City Council members are investigating his use of a city credit card on the trip and whether it was necessary to send two San Diego police officers as a security detail.
Filner released cost figures for the trip Thursday night.
His expenses — $9,839 for airfare, lodging and meals — were paid by the Organization for Iranian-American Communities, a nonprofit group that supports greater democracy for Iran.
Filner was invited to speak at the annual rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Other political figures, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, also attended. While a member of Congress, Filner attended the annual rally on several occasions.
The San Diego Police Department paid for Filner’s bodyguards to follow him: $21,244 for airfare, lodging and meals.
In a statement about the trip, Filner said that along with attending the Paris rally, he also went to the city of Lille to tour facilities involved with energy and sustainability programs.
“Building and maintaining these international relationships will support several of the mayor’s most important priorities for San Diego,” the statement said.
Filner’s then-fiancee, Bronwyn Ingram, traveled with him, paying her own expenses.
According to Iranian.com, which posted a video from the event, Filner introduced Ingram as the “first lady of San Diego” and said that, in America and Iran, “it’s the women who are going to set us free.”
Days after the couple returned from Paris, Ingram broke off their engagement and ended their relationship. She sent an email to friends saying she had caught the mayor making dates with other women.