SAN DIEGO -- Facing calls for his resignation amid sex harassment claims, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner issued an apology Thursday for his treatment of women and vowed to change his behavior, admitting “I need help.”
Filner indicated he will not resign but that “I have reached into my heart and soul and realize I must and will change my behavior.” He said he and his staff will take the sexual harassment training offered by the city.
On a DVD given 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.”
He said he knew 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.”
Filner’s admission came just hours after an an emotionally charged news conference in which three longtime friends and supporters called on him to resign for what one called “truly reprehensible” behavior toward women.
Although no details were given about alleged sexual harassment, former City Councilwoman Donna Frye and lawyers Marco Gonzalez and Cory Briggs said they will help the women if they decide to come forward and file lawsuits.
Frye, her voice breaking, said the women “are too scared to speak.”
Briggs said his message to the women is, “When you’re ready to file lawsuits, I’ll be standing in court.”
“The mayor is in control of the script,” Gonzalez said. “The next chapter will largely be defined by his response.”
The three said the alleged victims do not want to be in the media spotlight. Briggs asked reporters not to attempt to find out the women’s names and interview them.
Frye and Gonzalez said they met recently with Filner. They declined to discuss what took place at the meetings. Gonzalez referred to Filner as “our friend and our ally.”
But Frye said, “There are community standards in our society that need to be upheld.”
The calls for his resignation are the latest in a series of turbulent events involving the 70-year-old Democrat, who was elected in November after 10 terms in Congress.
On Monday, Filner’s fiancee sent an email to friends and supporters, announcing she and the mayor have broken their engagement and ended their relationship. The email from Bronwyn Ingram, whom Filner had referred to as San Diego’s first lady, provided no details.
There also have been published and broadcast reports that federal officials are looking into a deal between Filner and a land developer.
The 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.
KGTV-Channel 10 has also raised questions about the use of public money for a trip to Paris Filner took to participate in a rally organized by Iranian dissidents. San Diego police went on the trip to provide security for the mayor.
While there has been grumbling in some Republican circles that a recall movement should be mounted against the combative Filner, particularly due to his feud with the Republican city attorney, Jan Goldsmith, the resignation demands signal the first defection from his supporters.
Briggs, Gonzalez and Frye each sent letters to Filner on Wednesday, calling on him to resign.
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 Filner’s alleged 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...”
Briggs and Gonzalez have been involved in numerous high-profile environmental and land-use cases, including several in which they represented a side favored by Filner.
Frye, a former mayoral candidate, was key to Filner’s mayoral campaign, with sharp criticisms of his opponent, then-Councilman Carl DeMaio. After Filner was elected, she worked briefly as his director of open-government issues.
During the mayoral campaign, county Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis, who was defeated in the mayoral primary, criticized Filner for showing a disrespect for women.
Filner has had several resignations among his mayoral staff, including the deputy chief of staff and the communications director.