Supporters Ask Filner To Resign Over Sexual Harassment Claims
Former Councilwoman Donna Frye, who was a member of Filner’s staff until she resigned in April, and attorneys Marco Gonzalez and Cory Briggs, each hand-delivered letters to Filner requesting his immediate resignation Wednesday and echoed those requests at a Thursday morning press conference.
Gonzalez told reporters that despite their support of the mayor until this point, he, Frye and Briggs could no longer stay quiet about the allegations.
"There comes a point where rumor becomes fact," he said. "We can no longer say 'that's just a rumor.' We have reached that point."
In her letter to Filner, Frye said she has "received credible evidence of more than one woman being sexually harassed by you." She made it clear in an interview that she is not among the alleged harassment victims.
“I cannot in good conscience remain silent on this, even if those who have spoken to me choose to do so out of fear of retribution or the possibility of a media circus where they could be twice victimized,” she said in the letter.
During Thursday's conference, Frye tearfully told reporters of the seriousness of the allegations and why she was willing to come forward on behalf of the victims.
She also noted that despite her understanding that the press wanted answers about specifics, she asked that caution be used when attempting to hunt down the victims for comment.
"I'm much more sympathetic to the people who have brought these allegations and the women who are too scared to speak," she said. "I feel that now this matter needs to be discussed with Mayor Filner. That needs to be the next step."
City Council President Todd Gloria, who would fill in for Filner if he resigned, also called on the mayor to address the allegations.
"Sexual harassment is a serious matter, and these allegations deserve a response," he said in a statement issued Thursday. "San Diegans need to hear from the Mayor soon."
Attorneys Briggs and Gonzalez who have appealed to Filner are longtime supporters of Democratic causes and candidates — notably Filner in his campaigns for San Diego mayor and for Congress, where he represented San Diego and Imperial County residents for more than two decades.
Briggs, a well-known environmental lawyer who backed Filner last year, released his letter publicly Wednesday. In it, he asked for Filner's resignation, but was circumspect, saying, “I have spent the better part of my career standing up for principles of open, accountable, responsible government. It’s clear to me that your office has violated these principles …”
During the press conference, Briggs told reporters that he found out about the sexual harassment allegations as he was working through information about the relationship between Filner, the city and Sunroad Enterprises.
Filner was accused of shaking down a developer for a $100,000 donation to a veteran’s memorial and bike-safety campaign. Sunroad is no stranger to controversy. Former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders was also accused of corrupt dealings with the company.
Media reports say the FBI is investigating the latest Sunroad controversy.
Gonzalez, also an environmental lawyer who has taken on high-profile, controversial issues, told KPBS that he represents “multiple women” who claim sexual harassment by Filner.
His letter to Filner was direct:
“At our recent meeting I was of the impression that you understood the gravity of the circumstances surrounding your treatment of staff, and in particular, the women who work for you in the Office of the Mayor.
“… While this is an extremely difficult message to convey, as members of a progressive community that prides itself on our support for women, their issues, and especially equality in the workplace, we cannot sit idly by and watch your inexcusable behavior continue.
“What we would not accept for our enemies, we cannot condone of our friends.”
Although Gonzalez said he has "multiple women clients," no lawsuits have been filed. Gonzalez told victims of the alleged harassment that the three who hosted the press conference were ready to hear from them if they wanted to speak.
"Whether you're the mayor, the head of a small company, there are certain things that are intolerable, specifically with respect to women," he said. "You know why we're here...We're here for you. We'll take the hit as far as we have to, as long as we have to."
Reporters with NBC 7/39 tried to get information from Filner as they shared an elevator in Filner's apartment complex Downtown, but he did not give any indication whether he would resign or if he had a response to the letters.
Voice of San Diego reporter Liam Dillon also asked Filner about the allegations Wednesday. According to a tweet from Dillon, Filner walked away when the subject came up.
Repeated calls and emails from KPBS News to Filner's office have not been returned.
Filner's engagement to Bronwyn Ingram fell apart this week. It is unclear whether Ingram's decision to end the relationship with Filner is related to the sexual harassment claims.
A claims analyst for the Social Security Administration, Ingram was at Filner’s side often during last fall’s campaign and at various civic events. She has not returned calls requesting an interview.
Ingram – whom Filner introduced as “The First Lady of San Diego” – headed a campaign out of the mayor’s office to improve conditions for the city’s homeless. In announcing the termination this week of their engagement, Ingram expressed regret over not being able to continue working on the mayor’s issues.
Frye, who delivered her letter to the mayor’s office yesterday afternoon, said her primary concern is for the victims of this abuse. She is adamant about not disclosing their identities without their permission.
The mayor has not contacted her since the letter was delivered, Frye said.
Frye said she was very reluctant to go public with her resignation request, fearing the women could be victimized twice; and she pleaded for restraint by the press.
Frye, who twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor herself, campaigned for Filner last fall. She took a job in his administration as the director of open government, working with council offices and community groups to “keep the city’s business open and public.”
Frye resigned in April, saying at the time that she wanted to accept the presidency of Californians Aware, a nonprofit advocating for open government across the state.
While Frye, Briggs and Gonzalez have come forward, other supporters have not included themselves in the call for Filner's resignation.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, also a prominent supporter of the mayor, joined the three in calling for him to address sexual harassment allegations but stopped short of asking him to leave ofice.
"Sexual harassment in the workplace is completely and totally unacceptable. I, like most San Diegans, am trying to fully understand what allegations are being made and fully expect the Mayor to respond publicly," she told U-T San Diego in a statement.
Gonzalez was instrumental in electing Filner, as she marshaled labor forces in the region on his election and other Democratic causes last fall as head of the labor council. She was later elected to the legislature herself and left the labor council in the hands of San Diego Unified school board trustee Richard Barrera.
Barrera, who holds office in the labor council as secretary-treasurer, said "Our commitment is always to the workers of San Diego...we take any allegations of harassment in the workplace extremely seriously. We're anticipating the mayor's response and a full review of the facts."
KPBS news partner 10News reports that sources told them the Mayor’s trip to France last month cost the city $22,000. That money paid for two city police officers to accompany the mayor as his security detail.
It has been a summer of scandal and accusations against the mayor, who has only been in office a little over six months. Filner and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith have been embroiled in a bitter political feud, with the Republican city attorney accusing the Democratic mayor of being abusive.
Both sides are accusing the other of engaging in questionable -- even illegal --behavior. The mayor may have kicked Deputy City Attorney Andrew Jones out of a closed session City Council meeting, but the City Attorney’s office is now being sued over inappropriately leaking a redacted transcript of that same meeting. Andrew Jones is also one of the names Filner singled out for firing when his budget cut $1.4 million from the City Attorney’s budget.
Last month there were two more high-profile resignations, including that of Irene McCormack, Filner’s Director of Communications. Filner has not yet replaced her or Deputy Chief of Staff Allen Jones, who also resigned after criticizing the mayor’s treatment of staff in a meeting.
Meanwhile, Briggs – who has sued Goldsmith to release the full closed-meeting transcript – also sued the City and Sunroad, alleging back-room dealing.