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updated: 7/26/2013 3:40 PM

San Diego mayor to get therapy amid harassment scandal

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  • San Diego Mayor Bob Filner speaks Friday during a news conference at city hall.

      San Diego Mayor Bob Filner speaks Friday during a news conference at city hall.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- Declaring he "must become a better person," San Diego Mayor Bob Filner announced Friday he will undergo two weeks of counseling after a series of women came forward and claimed the former Democratic congressman made unwanted sexual advances that included groping, kissing and offensive comments.

"Words alone are not enough," Filner said at a nationally televised news conference. "I am responsible for my conduct and I must take responsibility for my conduct so that such conduct does not ever happen again."

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Filner said he will receive twice-a-day briefings about city operations while taking part in two weeks of what he described as "intensive therapy" beginning Aug. 5.

Filner, who is 70 and divorced, did not take any questions after the announcement that was briefly interrupted by a microphone problem.

The sexual harassment allegations resulted in widespread calls for him to resign, plunging the nation's eighth-largest city into political turmoil. He is less than eight months into a four-year term.

When the allegations surfaced, Filner apologized for disrespecting women and said he needed help. But soon after, he said he was innocent of sexual harassment and resisted calls to leave office. The former congressman is San Diego's first Democratic mayor in 20 years.

The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee called on Filner to resign as did leaders of the San Diego Democratic party after seven women identified themselves as targets of his sexual harassment. Some of the claims included unwanted touching.

The mayor spoke a day after the latest accusers came forward, including a retired Navy rear admiral and a dean at San Diego State University.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman called Filner's alleged behavior "reprehensible and indefensible" while urging him to step down.

A week ago, the local Democratic committee deadlocked 24-24 on the question, but that vote was before any woman had publicly identified themselves as a target.

After the vote on Thursday, Francine Busby, the county party chairwoman, said, "We are not here to determine guilt or innocence. However, in the best interest of the city, the San Diego County Democratic Party has voted to ask Mayor Filner to step down, seek the personal help that he needs, and allow San Diego to move forward."

Political consultant Laura Fink, who alleges that Filner patted her buttocks at a 2005 fundraiser when she was deputy campaign manager for the then-congressman, welcomed the party's position but expressed doubt that Filner would resign.

"Bob Filner is one of the most stubborn people I have ever met, and your guess is as good as mine, but I see him holding on tightly to the grip of the mayor's office," she said.

Veronica "Ronne" Froman, the retired rear admiral, said Filner once blocked a doorway after others left a meeting, ran his finger up her cheek and asked if she had a man in her life.

Froman, who is known in San Diego as the "Navy Mayor" and has led the American Red Cross local chapter, said the incident occurred a couple years ago at Filner's congressional office.

Sharon Bernie-Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, said the then-congressman told her at an event in 2010 that she was beautiful and he wanted to date her after his re-election. At another event last year during the mayoral campaign, she said Filner "groped me on my backside inappropriately."

"I was left there startled and fearful. In fact, I actually had someone walk me to my car that night," she said.

Patti Roscoe, a businesswoman in the tourism and hospitality industry who knew Filner before he was elected to Congress in 1992, said Filner placed her in a "headlock" numerous times and tried to kiss her on the lips.

"I'd have to squirm to get away. And just as recently as a few months ago this happened. I turned and he just slobbered down my chin," Roscoe said.

Joyce Gattas, dean of San Diego State's College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, said she had a series of "interactions with Bob where he's held me too tight, a kiss on the cheek which is inappropriate, hands on the knee that last too long."

The first allegations surfaced two weeks ago when a former councilwoman and onetime Filner supporter called for the mayor to step down, saying she had credible evidence that he harassed women. Filner then issued a video statement, apologizing for intimidating and "failing to fully respect" women. He called his behavior "inappropriate and wrong," promised to change, and declared, "I need help."

On Monday, the mayor's communications director from January to June, Irene McCormack Jackson, filed a lawsuit claiming that he asked her to work without panties, demanded kisses, told her he wanted to see her naked and dragged her in a headlock while whispering in her ear.

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