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Democratic Party tells Mayor Filner to quit amid sex allegations

July 25, 2013|By Tony Perry
  • Four more women came forward accusing Mayor Bob Filner of unwanted sexual advances, including, from left, retired Navy Rear Adm. Veronica "Ronne" Froman; Joyce Gattas, dean of the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts at San Diego State University; Sharon Bernie-Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Assn.; and Patti Roscoe, a prominent businesswoman.
Four more women came forward accusing Mayor Bob Filner of unwanted sexual… (KPBS )

SAN DIEGO -- The central committee of the San Diego County Democratic Party voted Thursday night to ask Mayor Bob Filner to resign amid the increasing number of allegations by women that he sexually harassed them.

The vote, at a meeting closed to reporters, came just hours after four more women accused Filner of sexual misconduct, bringing to seven the number of women making such allegations. One of the seven has filed a lawsuit.

The 70-year-old Democrat, a member of Congress for 20 years before being elected mayor in November, has said he will not resign and that he deserves due process.

He has said that while his behavior toward women has been bad, he does not believe he has committed sexual harassment. He insists that he will be vindicated and has hired an attorney.

Last week, the party's central committee had declined to join those calling for Filner to resign until more was known about the allegations against him. At that time, none of Filner's accusers had gone public. Filner is the first Democratic mayor in San Diego in two decades.

"There is no place in the Democratic Party for those who harass, intimidate or do not fully respect women," City Council President Todd Gloria, a Democrat, said after Thursday night's vote.

Filner appeared at two public events Thursday, dodging reporters' questions. At one event, he joked that the Barrio Logan neighborhood had never seen so many reporters.

Filner repeated to reporters that he deserves due process, a call that his supporters have also adopted.

The latest women to accuse Filner of making unwanted sexual advances were a retired Navy admiral, a San Diego State University dean, a leader in the city’s tourism industry, and head of a group of business owners who are tenants of the San Diego Port District.

The encounters with Filner were at public events, the women said.

Veronica “Ronne” Froman, a retired Navy rear admiral who became the city’s chief operating officer under Filner’s mayoral predecessor, Jerry Sanders, said that during a meeting with Filner while he was in Congress, Filner “stopped me and he got very close to me. And he ran his finger up my cheek like this and he whispered to me, ‘Do you have a man in your life?'”

Froman said she rebuffed Filner but was so rattled that she told two men who were at the same meeting to “never leave me alone in a room with Bob Filner again.”

Joyce Gattas, dean of the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, told KPBS that Filner held her tightly, kissed her and put his hands on her knee. She also said she had seen Filner make “sexual comments to others.”

Also this week, a school psychologist and a political consultant accused Filner of inapproporiate touching. The former said he tried to kiss her; the latter said he patted her buttocks.

On Monday, Filner’s former director of communications, Irene McCormack Jackson, filed a lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court seeking unspecified damages for Filner’s treatment of her. The lawsuit alleges that he frequently put her in a headlock, made sexual comments and, on one occasion, said she should work without her panties on.

In announcing the lawsuit, Jackson said she has seen Filner touch numerous women inappropriately.

All seven of his accusers have called for him to resign. Six of nine members of the City Council have done the same, as have several prominent San Diego Democrats, including Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Reps. Scott Peters and Susan Davis.

The City Charter, however, contains no provision for impeachment. Without a voluntary resignation, the only means for ousting a mayor are a recall election or conviction of a felony.

Although the Sheriff's Department has opened a hotline to field allegations against Filner, there is no indication that a criminal investigation is underway.

The National Women's Veterans Assn. of America on Wednesday withdrew its invitation to have Filner speak at his convention in San Diego next month. The group cited the lawsuit filed against Filner by Jackson.

And in yet another sign of turmoil in the mayor's office, Filner announced Wednesday that the chief of staff named just 10 days ago to provide stability has departed and been replaced.

Tony Buckles, who was Filner's chief of staff in Washington for 13 years, has left, with no explanation for the abrupt departure.

Buckles has been replaced by Lee Burdick, who had been the deputy chief of staff and, before that, the mayor's director of legal affairs.

"I respect her and intend to rely heavily on her leadership in this new role," Filner said in a statement emailed to reporters.

After the sexual harassment controversy became public two weeks ago, Filner brought in Walt Ekard, a retired chief administrative officer for the county government, to serve as interim chief operating officer.

Ekard has assumed duties that Filner had previously undertaken, including dealing with staff and department directors.

The staff changes have not changed the views of the majority of City Council members who insist that Filner should resign.

"It’s clear that it doesn't matter how many staff changes Bob Filner makes -- it's Filner who's the problem and it's Filner who must go," said Councilman Kevin Faulconer, the senior Republican on the council.

tony.perry@latimes.com

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