Congresswoman says former San Diego mayor sexually harassed her

Bob Filner stepped down as mayor of San Diego in 2013 amid numerous allegations of sexual harassment.
(Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A sitting member of Congress said former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner made unwelcome sexual advances when they served together in the House of Representatives, the latest accusation against the disgraced politician.

Filner stepped down as mayor in 2013 amid numerous allegations of sexual harassment.

“Some years ago, I was in an elevator and then-Congressman Bob Filner tried to pin me to a door of the elevator and kiss me. And I pushed him away,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said in an interview with MSNBC.

DeGette’s spokeswoman said the congresswoman previously told her family that Filner tried to kiss her in the elevator, but this was the first time she had discussed the matter publicly.

Filner, a Democrat, did not immediately return an email requesting comment, but he has previously denied allegations of sexual misconduct. DeGette said she tried to avoid Filner afterward.

“I was his colleague, he couldn’t take action against me. And believe you me, I never got into an elevator with him again,” she told MSNBC.

DeGette’s accusation comes as members of Congress try to take steps to stop improper sexual behavior by members and staffers, including an effort to make the process to address accusations more victim-friendly. There has also been a greater emphasis on training to prevent and identify sexual misconduct.

It’s the latest accusation against Filner, who served in the House from 2003 until 2012 before leaving to become San Diego’s 35th mayor. He resigned from his mayoral post in 2013 in disgrace after several women accused him of making unwelcome sexual contact. He later pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and battery and was sentenced to house arrest and probation.

It’s unclear exactly when the incident ​​​​​​​that DeGette described happened. DeGette, who joined Congress in 1997, said it occurred “some years ago” and also noted that Filner became mayor “some years later.”

DeGette said she was sharing her own experience in order to identify people who behave inappropriately, and to stop them from hurting anyone else. She said she’s particularly worried that young people on congressional staffs, or interns, could be hurt.

“A lot of my colleagues and others have said this is going on, but they seem somehow so reluctant to say who did it. And I don’t really understand that. It seems to me, particularly if those people are still in Congress, or whatever the profession is, they’re still getting away with it. And I don’t think my story is much different from most professional women,” she said.

DeGette also said a French diplomat tried to reach up her dress during a formal dinner.

Stewart writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.