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San Diego City Hall opens with no sign of mayor; trouble over sexual harassment accusations

By Julie Watson

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Aug. 19 2013 1:00 p.m. MDT

In this July 26, 2013 file photo, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner speaks during a news conference at city hall, in San Diego.

Gregory Bull, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SAN DIEGO — City Hall opened as usual Monday but Mayor Bob Filer was nowhere to be found, still out of public view as he tries to survive a recall effort prompted by a cascade of sexual harassment allegations that led the entire City Council and many leading fellow Democrats to call for him to resign.

City Council President Todd Gloria said he didn't know if Filner would make a public appearance on Monday, the day the mayor promised to return to work after receiving two weeks of therapy to address behavioral issues.

Filner is not obligated to show up but owes the people of San Diego an explanation of his whereabouts, Gloria said. The city's daily operations have been running fine without Filner, he said, and should the mayor appear it could make female employees uncomfortable.

"Those of us who have called on the mayor to resign know he is not being effective at this time," Gloria said. "The mayor's presence is a distraction."

The mayor has not made his schedule public. His spokeswoman Lena Lewis and lawyer James Payne did not respond to calls.

More than a dozen women, including a university dean and a retired Navy rear admiral, have gone public with sexual harassment accusations against Filner. Some contend he cornered, groped and forcibly kissed them.

The accusations have prompted an avalanche of calls for Filner to resign and a recall effort that started Sunday. Hooters restaurants in San Diego even posted signs saying he's not welcome.

Filner's former communications director, 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. The latest accuser came forward Thursday — a 67-year-old great-grandmother and volunteer city worker who assists senior citizens.

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer are among a slew of California politicians who have called on the fellow Democrat to step down.

Filner has acknowledged that his behavior was unacceptable but has not termed it sexual harassment.

Filner, a feisty liberal who served 10 terms in Congress before being elected mayor last November — has long had a reputation for berating employees and has been dogged by rumors of inappropriate behavior toward women. But nothing in his past approaches what has surfaced in the last six weeks.

"He is a ferocious campaigner, but this will be most difficult campaign of his life," said Steve Erie, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego. "The allegations are like Chinese water torture, the way they keep coming out. It's like drip, drip, drip. At this point, I'm waiting for the first woman who has been around Bob to say 'he didn't manhandle me.'"

The 70-year-old has become a punch line for comedians and been regularly mocked on national programs such as "The Daily Show." A cable television affiliate of the local newspaper, U-T San Diego, recently produced its own musical parody that shows a man's body with Filner's face hip-thrusting and chasing women in short skirts and high heels.

The video by U-T TV was criticized for making light of a serious situation.

Before going into therapy, Filner asked voters to be patient while he gets help.

"Before I even think of asking for forgiveness, I must demonstrate that my behavior has changed. And that will only happen over time and only if such incidents never, ever happen again," Filner said.

He vowed when he returned that his "focus will be on making sure that I am doing right by the city in terms of being the best mayor I can be, and the best person I must be."

Filner has agreed not to meet with women alone on city business and has delegated broad authority to a new interim chief operating officer, Walt Ekard, a highly regarded former county administrator.

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