Filner Defiant As Details Of Alleged Sexual Harassment Emerge
ST. JOHN: Today we have as our guest in studio, City Council president, Todd Gloria. You've had a front row seat in everything that's been going on around the city since the mayor took office seven months ago. Now he's facing sexual harassment charges. What changed your mind calling for his resignation? GLORIA: As we get more information about the nature of the allegations, that it wasn't an isolated incident, that it was very severe, it was obvious to me and a number of other San Diegans that this mayor is not capable of leading the city any longer. And I ask for him to resign. ST. JOHN: We invited the mayor on the program and sent reporters, but so far he has not made himself available from KPBS. We have a clip from an interview. [ AUDIO RECORDING ] NEW SPEAKER: I'm a very demonstrative person. I express my demonstrably. I'm a hugger, of both men and women. And if is it turns out that those are taken in an offensive manner, I need to have a greater self-awareness about what I am doing, and we will correct that. And I am taking those steps. But my whole political career has been one of being an outgoing person, and I have to deal with that in a more self-aware way. ST. JOHN: So the mayor is calling himself a hugger. We know the city attorney instructed his staff not to go to the mayor's office. Did any of your staff experience discomfort with the mayor? GLORIA: No one on my direct staff. But that clip is disturbing in that the mayor believes that he's allegations have to do with him hugging somebody. That's clearly not what was told to the public Tuesday in terms of forcible kissing and other things that are not suitable for work. That is the nature of the problem. He cannot deny this thing. The day after this came out, he admitted to it, now he's stepping back on that. That is not about hugging. It's far more dangerous than that. ST. JOHN: A lot of people say this is not absolutely a surprise. So were there any people in your office who had stories to tell that would bolster what Donna Frye came out with yesterday? GLORIA: What I witnessed was the treatment of Andrew Jones, which is certainly not sexual harassment, but was absolutely harassment, was completely wrong, and shouldn't have been excused. When you see behavior like that, it's not hard to start thinking about the kinds of things that were outlined in recent days. We know that there's certainly a problem, and all these things add up to the fact that we have a mayor who's no longer capable of leading the city. ST. JOHN: Would you say that women are not the only ones that have suffered? GLORIA: Absolutely not. There have been poor treatment of others. But in this case, it sounds hike we're talking about at least one city employee. And that power dynamic is off and it's wrong. The allegations border on sexual battery, sexual assault. These are very serious matters. You can't explain this away. We're hearing about a partner of practice that makes someone not worthy of the highest office in the city. ST. JOHN: Do you think women are being asked to carry the water in a way for many people on the staff who have suffered abusive behavior? GLORIA: I think it's obvious that women are vulnerable given the circumstances. I think we have to go about the process of providing a means by which employees can report these things. We have a situation that's very concerning. The man who police departments our city is now the subject of allegations. ST. JOHN: I have to ask you, if he were to resign, you as the council president would become the interim mayor, assuming that title until the special election were called. If that were to happen, would you run? GLORIA: My responsibility to this point in time is to make sure the work is still getting done in the city. We have a couple meeting at 2:00 PM. We have a budget meeting tomorrow. So the people have my commitment to run the city as best I can in that interim period, get us past this mess. ST. JOHN: Do you know how long that process would take? GLORIA: I do not. We think others will come forward because of these allegations. But that process is problem lengthy and it ought to be in the sense that this is a very high-profile situation to make sure that the city's interests are protected, the tax papers are protected. The end result was multiple claims against the city, and millions of dollars paid out. And we need to prepare for that and hope this eventuality can come swiftly. ST. JOHN: Let's talk about how this can affect the governance of the city. We have another clip in which the mayor talks about what he believes to be a solution. NEW SPEAKER: The city will continue to be governed at a very high and effective level. Eckert who covered the county for 14 years is in charge. And they're going to be insulated from these other charges. So the City of San Diego will be well-governed while we deal with the process of these what might be investigations. ST. JOHN: So Walt Eckert who served for 59 years, and he agreed that he is a fiscal conservative. With him running the city, and we also hear that Sanders' former top aide may be coming back, have the Republicans staged a coup? GLORIA: I don't think so. What is being missed by the mayor is that we do not have a stacking problem at the city. We have a mayor problem. And these hires are not sufficient to solve the leadership crisis that we have at the city. It's important to note that the head of our public utilities department is vacant. Our neighbor cocompliance department is vacant. We are not recruiting people to come to the city. Mr. Eckert is only here on an interim basis. So the work of the city subbing impacted by this crisis. The council will do everything we can to make sure the board continues, but it will be easier to do that if the mayor were to resign. ST. JOHN: How do you predict Walt Eckert's tenure to last? GLORIA: I understand the mayor has given him additional authority that his predecessor did not have. I think that will be helpful. I think it's unlikely he could continue for any length of time giving Mr. Eckert the authority that was given. And you might ask yourself if that's the appropriate thing to do. The people elected the mayor to make these decisions. And he has to be focused on his work. And we're hearing he's going to be distracted and not capable of keeping an eye on the business of the city. ST. JOHN: The reason the public voted for a strong mayor was because the city manager was behind the scenes and less accessible and accountable. Do you worry about that? GLORIA: Well, it's a strong mayor/strong council form of government. And I'm telling your listeners we will have a strong council working aggressively. We are working hard for the people. But it does require two equal branches of government working constructively, and I'm worried given what's going on with our mayor that's not possible. ST. JOHN: The mayor still believe he will be able to pursue his policies. And we have a click from yesterday. NEW SPEAKER: I brought this on through my own personal frailties. And the biggest monster right now is inside me, which we will deal with. But obviously when you're a mayor who's trying to do change, people will take advantage of that, and I think people will have to account for their own motivations in all this, but I'm confident that at the end of the day, after a fair process I'll be vindicated. And we're going to move forward on the big vision we have for San Diego and our future. ST. JOHN: So the mayor admits he has a monster inside, yet he says his policies will still be driving the city. Do you think he can pursue an agenda when his reputation is in the tank? GLORIA: That's the point. You have a mayor who has said he needs helped, who is a self-described monster. These are not good things. And he said he wants to seek professional help. I applaud that. I don't believe you can do that and effectively govern the city at the same time. ST. JOHN: You are a Democrat. Although you haven't agreed with all his policies. What were the strategies that you were pursuing with him together that you feel threatened as a result of this? GLORIA: Well, the things we were working together on, expanding our bike infrastructure, ending homelessness in San Diego, that will continue regardless of the mayor. Those are personal passions of mine and other members of the council. This city can function even after he resigns. But the point is it would be easy to do with a mayor who's got their full attention on the business of the city. ST. JOHN: Scott Peters, Susan Davis have called on him to resign. Has the Democratic Party approached you all in terms of how to manage this crisis? GLORIA: They haven't. I think we're all grappling with this. This shouldn't be a political issue. This is the running of the city, we need to be focused on making sure that the city's business gets done. The fact I'm here talking to you as opposed to the city's budget, that we're not talking about potholes, water reliability or the big things facing the city at this moment show this is an incredible distraction. Comic-Con is here this week. The eyes of the world are on this city, and as a citizen I'm embarrassed. ST. JOHN: How long would it be before a special election? GLORIA: About 90 days thereafter. That's some particulars around that. But 90 days and there would be a runoff if no one received a majority vote. ST. JOHN: However, at the moment, the mayor is asking for due process. So it would be 90 days if he were to resign. If he doesn't do you have an estimate of how long due process would take? GLORIA: We don't know. At what point is there a tipping point where the mayor understands that this is not sustainable? And there's another recall process which takes even longer. I think it's sad that the city is in a state of uncertainty. And on his comments, he's relying upon the fact that the fear these women may have is what's going to be what gets him through this. And I think that's a horrible strategy. Particular in a city with so many needs as our own. ST. JOHN: Is there anything you have to say about the women who have not come forward? GLORIA: I think they're in an impossible position. I have said please come forward, file your claims. And they have my assurance that their claims will be taken seriously, that we'll handle them the best way as possible. There may be some doubt in that. But they certainly have my assurance, and our city attorney is equally committed to making sure whatever comes forward is handled in a fair manner. ST. JOHN: And legally speaking, the more serious charge comes from women who have been sexually harassed. Do you have any sense of a number of women who might be able to file some claim? GLORIA: I do not. I think folks should come forward and make themselves heard. I recognize though that is a huge barrier. It comes at great personal expense. But for these women, the city, taxpayers, this embarrassment, let's move on. ST. JOHN: Thank you very much.
Just like last week, former Councilwoman Donna Frye, and attorneys Marco Gonzalez and Cory Briggs — three ex-supporters of Mayor Bob Filner — gathered Monday before a throng of cameras to ask for the mayor’s resignation. Just like last week, they did not say how many women had come to them with claims they were sexually harassed, nor did any of the women themselves come forward to accuse the mayor.
However, they did offer specific details, accusing the mayor of a long-running pattern of sexual harassment and even assault. They said the mayor has a modus operandi, a way of getting women alone and forcibly kissing and touching them. They volunteered the anonymous stories of three women: a constituent, a woman who campaigned for Filner, and an employee who worked in the mayor’s office.
Frye described in elaborate detail the story of one alleged victim. She said Filner grabbed the woman’s breast, putting his hand beneath her bra, and forced his tongue down her throat.
Gonzales related details from the victim who was in Filner’s employ — he said early on in the mayor’s term, she complimented the mayor, telling him he was doing a good job. The mayor responded that he would do a better job if she gave him a kiss. She laughed it off as a joke, Gonzalez said, but he said she soon became aware that the mayor was serious, continuing to harass her and others both physically and verbally.
“There is no circumstance under which it would be appropriate for the mayor to enter into an elevator with my client or any person who he employed and to tell them that they would do a better job on that floor if they worked without their panties on,” but that, Gonzalez said, is precisely what happened.
Gonzalez described certain moves Filner had that earned names among those who know him, like the "Filner dance" and the "Filner headlock." The former was the dance they allege Filner did when he kissed a woman who was pulling away; the headlock, an overly friendly way of pulling women close to him so he could isolate them.
Frye was visibly upset, her emotional appearance at last week's press conference was replaced with anger and frustration. Responding to questions as to why the women were not coming forward, she raised her finger and voice, “Bob Filner is the problem, not these women for not coming forward. Bob knows exactly what he did, the people up in that office know what he’s been doing, the people in the press know what he’s been doing, so don’t look at me," she said.
She called him “tragically unsafe for any woman to be around.”
Frye also worked for Filner before resigning in March to take another job. She said the moment she heard credible claims from a victim, she came forward.
Thronging behind Frye, Gonzalez, and Briggs were Filner supporters who held signs that read “Due Process For Mayor Filner.” Throughout the press conference, they called out to the three accusers to give the names of the women or file formal charges so that Filner could have his day in court.
Chistine Mann came to show her support for the mayor. She said she believed the proper process for dealing with sexual harassment had been circumvented. Mann said she was worried Filner is being railroaded in a push for political power.
“I feel like we’re being bullied by a handful of people in our government who want us to do basically what they tell us to do—to just trust them,” Mann said. “That there are these women who—the acts have been so horrific and egregious—that they cannot go on record and they cannot go through due process.”
To Mann, it doesn’t add up.
Yet, lawyer Gonzalez — who had campaigned for Filner — said the mayor already admitted he had crossed the line in a videotaped interview handed out to the press on Thursday. Gonzalez said the mayor’s statement was a flat out admission he had done something wrong. The mayor faced the camera, in a seemingly candid speech that asked for forgiveness, and said, “I have failed to fully respect the women who work for me, and with me,” adding “at times I have intimidated them.”
Gonzalez said this admission already puts the mayor in violation of California’s sexual harassment laws. “That is due process,” he told protesters.
Gonzalez went on to say that when he and Fyre approached the mayor with these charges, Filner did much the same thing — admitted culpability and promised to change. That change, Gonzalez said, never came, “he didn’t understand what he has done was wrong, and yet he admitted that he did it.”
Gonzalez said the mayor’s conflicting statements paint a picture of a man desperate to hang onto power, “and on one statement in one day, he says 'I apologize for treating women without respect, I apologize for intimidating them.' The very next day he says I’m innocent — what does that tell you?”
Filner has repeated his assertion he did not sexually harass women. He told KUSI that he is a “hugger” of both men and women but not an abuser. He said his actions were taken in an offensive manner but they weren’t meant in one.
"My whole political career has been one of being an outgoing person. And I have to deal with that, certainly, in a more self aware way," he said.
Filner went on to criticize his critics for taking hearsay and gossip for truth, and he criticized the lack of due process provided him.
“There’s been no charges as far as I’m aware. There’s been press conferences, there’s been anonymous sources, but there are no charges," he said.
Filner also penned an op-ed piece published Monday evening in the U-T San Diego in which he elaborated on his plans and again stressed his innocence. He acknowledged being a tough boss writing, "As mayor, I have very high expectations for our City, and when people I’m counting on don’t perform, I get upset. I now recognize that approach has been seen by some as disrespectful."
Filner denied that his brusque demeanor ever crossed the line into sexual harassment saying, "There’s a big difference between being a difficult guy to work for and being guilty of sexual harassment, as has recently been alleged." The mayor said there is no resignation letter in his future.
Gonzalez said his clients will go forward with filing sexual harassment claims through the proper channels. He said he wasn’t sure whether that meant lawsuits would follow or what this scandal will cost taxpayers. He also said nothing about the women coming forward to tell their stories in person.