Former San Diego Councilwoman Donna Frye storms away from a Monday news… (Lenny Ignelzi, Associated…)
SAN DIEGO — Turning up the pressure on Mayor Bob Filner to resign, three former supporters Monday released details of his alleged sexual harassment of women, including the forcible kissing of two constituents and grabbing the buttocks and breast of a staff member.
In a City Hall elevator, Filner told a female staffer that women employees would do better "if they worked without their panties on," attorney Marco Gonzalez said at a news conference outside City Hall.
Filner's behavior toward women is so egregious that women who work for him call him a "dirty old man" and coined the phrases "the Filner headlock" and "the Filner dance" to describe how he isolates women and then makes unwanted advances, Gonzalez said.
The accusations came two hours after the 70-year-old Democrat issued a statement saying he would not resign and that a fair investigation would find him innocent of sexual harassment.
"As your elected mayor, I fully expect to be accountable to the citizens of San Diego for all of my actions," Filner said in his statement. "But as a citizen of this country, I also expect — and am entitled to — due process, and the opportunity to respond in a fair and impartial venue to specific allegations."
Later Monday, Filner told San Diego television station KUSI that his behavior has been misinterpreted. "I'm a hugger of both men and women," he said. He said he has apologized to his staff.
Although Filner last week admitted to treating women on his staff poorly, he stopped short of admitting to sexual harassment. He also promised to seek professional help, take a sexual harassment class and apologize to women he may have offended.
Filner said he has hired a retired county official, Walt Ekard, as interim chief operating officer to make sure the workings of government are not hurt by the controversy. Ekard will take over many of the powers that Filner wielded: approving city contracts, giving orders to employees, selecting top management officials.
On Monday, Filner's ex-fiancee, Bronwyn Ingram, told local public radio station KPBS that Filner should resign and that she had caught him making dates with other women and sending them sexually explicit emails. She added, however, that she does not know whether allegations that he harassed his staff are true.
At the news conference held by Gonzalez, attorney Cory Briggs and former Councilwoman Donna Frye, several Filner supporters carried signs reading "Due Process for Mayor Filner."
But in impassioned, even angry tones, Frye and the two attorneys rejected the idea that Filner is being denied due process.
Gonzalez said a sexual harassment claim will be filed with city officials. Lawsuits are also a possibility, he said. "Bob Filner is tragically unsafe for any woman to approach," Frye said.
Frye and the lawyers, all longtime Filner supporters, declined to release the names of women making allegations against him or disclose how many women they have interviewed about the mayor.
Briggs said they are trying to "balance the public's right to know and the women's right to privacy."
Gonzalez said that once a claim is filed, investigators would talk to other mayoral staff members and the police officers assigned to the mayor's security detail. They will find that Filner has a pattern of pushing himself on women, starting with leering comments and then escalating to forcible kissing and groping, Gonzalez said.
Frye said that Filner makes sure he is alone with a woman, then asks whether she is married and then hands out compliments. With one constituent, he ended up forcibly kissing her, Frye said.
He did the same with another constituent and then, even after she rebuffed his advances, he grabbed one of her breasts, Frye said.
"This mayor cannot control himself," Gonzalez said. "He does not deserve to be the mayor of this city any longer."
Last week, after Filner released a contrite video and admitted "I need help," Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs rejected his plea as inadequate.
To allow Filner to remain in office would only "enable" him to continue abusing women, said Frye, who worked briefly for Filner.
As supporters, Frye and Gonzalez said they talked to Filner before going public with last week's demand. They realized he would not change, they said.
Only Filner's resignation will "help stop this horrible, horrible civic nightmare," Frye said.
Several members of the City Council — Democrats and Republicans — have called for Filner to resign, as have a list of other officeholders. On Monday, Reps. Susan Davis and Scott Peters, both San Diego Democrats, called for him to step down.
"His behavior, if not illegal, is reprehensible," Davis said.