City employee comes forward with sordid allegations against San Diego mayor
July 11, 2013: San Diego Mayor Bob Filner apologizes for his behavior in this frame from a video produced by the city of San Diego. (AP)
After daring the women he allegedly groped to come forward, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner got his wish on Monday. In a high-profile news conference led by Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, former mayoral spokeswoman Irene McCormack Jackson became the first woman to publicly claim she was a victim of Filner’s sexual advances.
“His behavior made me feel ashamed, frightened and violated,” McCormack Jackson, who previously worked as the mayor’s communications director, told reporters.
She and Allred painted Filner, a longtime Democratic official, as a serial harasser — who would ask her to work without her underwear, make “crude” sexual comments, and routinely drag her “around like a rag doll” while holding her in what was known as the “Filner headlock.”
Until now, the women who have leveled allegations against the mayor have remained anonymous, speaking through intermediaries.
In a scandal now known in San Diego as “Grope-gate,” Filner is alleged to have sexually harassed three women. One is a city employee — presumably McCormack Jackson — one is an unnamed campaign volunteer and one is an unnamed constituent supporter. They claim Filner groped, forcibly kissed and inappropriately touched them. The alleged incidents took place in the mayor’s office, on the street and in a car.
With Allred by her side, McCormack Jackson came forward, on camera, to accuse the mayor of misconduct on Monday.
They filed suit in San Diego County court, and demanded the mayor resign.
“He is not fit to be mayor of our great city,” the former city spokeswoman said.
Allred provided a bit more detail on the allegations. She claimed the mayor would whisper “sexual comments” to her client while dragging her around in a headlock. She claimed he would tell her “she should work without her panties.” And she claimed the mayor would “demand kisses” and tell her “he wanted to see her naked.”
McCormack Jackson said she had great hope when she originally took the job at the mayor’s office, even taking a $50,000 pay cut. But, she said, “the past six months turned out to be the worst time of my entire working life.”
McCormack Jackson recently resigned from the post in the mayor’s office, though continues to work for the city.
Filner has not specifically denied the allegations. Hours after he was accused, he apologized for his behavior, saying in a video last week, “I have diminished the office to which you elected me. I have reached into my heart and soul and realize I must and will change my behavior.”
“As someone who has spent a lifetime fighting for equality for all people, I am embarrassed to admit that I have failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me, and that at times I have intimidated them. I am also humbled to admit that I need help.”
The following day, however, Filner went on the offensive, hiring a lawyer and saying he would not resign. He claimed the facts would vindicate him. Six of nine members of the City Council have asked him to resign to prevent the city from additional embarrassment and financial exposure.
“The mayor is 70 years old,” said Councilman Scott Sherman. “I don’t know that taxpayers should be hiring a baby sitter for him.”
A vote of no confidence is possible, but the City Council has no authority over the mayor. A recall campaign is expected to begin in two to three weeks.
“The response to our recall petition is overwhelming,” said coordinator Mike Pallamary. “If we can collect 101,000 signatures, we will present those to the City Council which is required to set an election date within 60 days.
In two additional developments, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department set up a hotline over the weekend for any victims of Filner to lodge a complaint. And the San Diego District Attorney announced that, in the event of a criminal investigation, the state attorney general would handle the decision to prosecute.
Attorneys familiar with the law say, if the actions described are true, Filner could be charged criminally with sexual battery.
Also last week the San Diego County Democratic Party issued an unusual press release after voting 24-24 to not ask for Filner’s resignation. The party said Filner had “betrayed the trust” of voters,” but did not say how.
In the meantime, the city has hired a former, well-respected county manager to run the city day to day. He is trying to repair relations with the business community after Filner burned bridges on several projects, notably an expansion of the convention center.