Watch: San Diego starts new era with interim mayor Todd Gloria
SAN DIEGO – San Diego Mayor Bob Filner ended his brief but tumultuous tenure Friday amid allegations that he sexually harassed women, making no public appearances on a final day that came one week after a defiant farewell speech in which the one time civil rights activist called himself the victim of a “lynch mob.”
The former 10-term congressman kept a low profile on last final day, ceding media attention to a mock celebration by accusers who gave him several parting gifts, including a mirror that attorney Gloria Allred said he can look at when asking who’s to blame for his resignation.
Employees in the City Hall lobby said they hadn’t seen the mayor. An office receptionist had no comment.
Some women who identified themselves as targets of Filner’s sexual advances held a mock celebration to mark his last day in office.
Attorney Gloria Allred was flanked by her clients as she displayed what she called parting gifts for Filner.
She showed off a handheld mirror that she said Filner can look at when asking himself who’s to blame for his resignation, and a wallet-sized card containing California’s legal definition of sexual harassment.
Filner, a Democrat, leaves office after bowing to enormous pressure from local and national leaders in his own political party. In a defiant farewell speech last week, the onetime civil rights activist told the City Council he was the innocent victim of a “lynch mob.”
Among the many unanswered questions is how someone who acknowledged mistreating women for many years – but denied sexually harassing them – could have survived for so long in politics. Only he and perhaps a small circle of advisers know how his behaviour went undetected, and they aren’t talking.
Those who know him say he may have been more easily exposed as the leader of the nation’s eighth-largest city than as a congressman further from the spotlight. His behaviour also may have deteriorated after being elected the city’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years.
“There was a flood of community members who now felt welcome at City Hall, who felt welcome in the mayor’s office after years, if not decades, of being shut out,” said attorney Cory Briggs. “The speculation on my part … is that there were an awful lot of people who wanted an audience with the mayor and that provided him with an opportunity.”
Two months ago, Briggs joined a former city councilwoman and another longtime supporter to declare Filner unfit for office. Barely a week later, his communications director said he had asked her to work without underwear, demanded kisses and put her in headlocks.
He was, in the end, forced out by those who most embraced his liberal ideals.
Lori Saldana, a former Democratic state assemblywoman, said five or six women she invited to speak at a women’s studies class she taught at San Diego State University in 2011 confided they were previously targets of advances that fit a familiar pattern.
As he won elections, Filner, 70, also won admiration from voters for his work ethic and tenaciousness. He also had a reputation for demeaning employees and lashing out at perceived adversaries.
He was a fastidious boss who paid unusual attention to individual constituent complaints, said Thaddeus Hoffmeister, his legislative director from 2004 to 2007. Getting yelled at was a “rite of passage.”
Filner’s world began to unravel at a June 20 staff meeting when his deputy chief of staff, Allen Jones, and his communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, confronted him over his behaviour and quit.
Two supporters, Councilwoman Donna Frye and environmental attorney Marco Gonzalez, met privately with Filner days later and were unconvinced he would change. They joined Briggs at a news conference on July 11 to demand a resignation.
McCormack Jackson was the first of nearly 20 women to go public and is still the only one to sue. On Thursday, City Council President Todd Gloria named her to be his communications director when he becomes interim mayor. A special election to replace Filner has been set for Nov. 19.