San Diego City Council weighs mayoral agreement over calls for Mayor to resign
JULIE WATSON, Associated Press
5:57 PM, Aug 23, 2013
SAN DIEGO -
The San Diego Council is meeting behind closed doors on a deal to end a stalemate over calls for Mayor Bob Filner to resign amid sexual harassment allegations.
Dozens of voters spoke for and against the mayor at a special meeting Friday before City Council members adjourned to weigh the agreement in private. The terms, negotiated by Filner and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith have not been publicly disclosed.
The 70-year-old former congressman was elected San Diego's first Democratic leader less than a year ago. He has been under heavy pressure to resign since more than a dozen women accused him of unwanted advances.
"Without the mayor's resignation, our city will continue to be paralyzed by this scandal, progress will be arrested and our focus will continue to be monopolized by this dark chapter in our history," said Laura Fink, a political consultant who accused Filner of patting her buttocks in 2005 when she was deputy campaign manager to the then-congressman.
Rachel Laing, a spokeswoman for an effort to recall the mayor, said petition gatherers have collected 20,000 signatures in five days to qualify for the ballot but that she would accept a deal for the mayor to resign.
"Every day he's in office is a day that the city remains in paralysis and that his victims suffer," she told the council.
Still, many who came to the special meeting offered support to the politically isolated mayor, hailing the liberal Democrat's work on behalf of civil rights and struggling minority groups.
"When my children ask me, `Where were you when the public lynching of Mayor Filner took place?' I will tell them I was not an accessory," said Enrique Morones, president of immigrant advocacy group Border Angels.
Irma Castro, who praised the mayor for helping her low-income Latino neighborhood, carried a sign that read: "I was respected by Bob Filner."
Two people who were briefed on the settlement said the mayor would resign and the city would have to pay legal fees in the lawsuit by filed by his former communications director. One person said the city would pay for any potential damages.
The people spoke on condition of anonymity before terms of the agreement was made public.
City Attorney Goldsmith said earlier Friday that the city's only option to ending the turmoil was getting the 70-year-old mayor -- besieged by allegations of cornering, groping and forcibly kissing women -- out of office as quickly as possible.
"We look at stability as the mayor resigning and a special election, that's what we're facing," Goldsmith said.
The biggest bargaining chip at the negotiating table for the city's first Democratic mayor in two decades was his refusal to resign.
A person with knowledge of the negotiations said the main sticking points during talks involved granting Filner indemnity and covering his legal fees in the sexual harassment lawsuit. The person was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
That provision could prove tricky for the council, which was unanimous in wanting Filner to quit but also promised to not use taxpayer dollars to defend the mayor, who is facing accusations from at least 17 women.
"Without his resignation being part of it, it's a nonstarter," Republican Councilman Mark Kersey said Thursday.
The deal was negotiated between Filner, his lawyers, Goldsmith and two City Council members. Attorney Gloria Allred, representing Filner's former communication's director, Irene McCormack Jackson, in the lawsuit said she and her client were not a party to the proposed resolution and she did not know its details.
But she said the City Council should not support it if in exchange for his resignation the city is going to use taxpayer money to pay Filner's legal bills.
"The mayor's resignation should not be bought at the expense of his victims," she said. "It would be morally wrong and hypocritical for the city to align itself with the mayor by helping him pay his legal fees."
San Diego is not new to political scandals -- Mayor Dick Murphy resigned in 2005 amid a financial crisis and Mayor Roger Hedgecock stepped down in 1985 after a felony conviction for conspiracy in connection with illegal campaign contributions -- but even so Democratic consultant Chris Crotty said this has reached a new level.
The City Council is in a no-win situation if Filner is demanding coverage of his legal fees in exchange for resigning, Crotty said.
If voters were to decide, Crotty said: "I bet most would choose to hold their nose, say OK, and pay the money to get him out."
And it may be a moot point anyway, he said: Under California law the city must defend Filner even if the City Council ends up saying it won't. What's more, after all the dust has settled, the city also could still be facing the lawsuit.
Filner, a former 10-term congressman and college professor, has acknowledged disrespecting and intimidating women but has denied any sexual harassment.
All nine members of the City Council, along with a laundry list of fellow Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have called on Filner to quit.
McCormack was the first woman to go public with allegations against Filner. She claimed the mayor asked her to work without panties, demanded kisses, told her he wanted to see her naked and dragged her in a headlock while whispering in her ear.
Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat and Michael R. Blood contributed to this report. Blood reported from Los Angeles.