SAN DIEGO — Mayor Bob Filner agreed Friday to resign Aug. 30 in return for the city’s help in defending him against claims that he groped, kissed and made lewd comments to women, accusations that turned the former 10-term congressman into a national punch line.
Filner was defiant during a City Council meeting as he explained “the toughest decision of my life.” He apologized to his accusers but insisted he was innocent of sexual harassment and said he was the victim of a “lynch mob.”
“The city should not have to go through this, and my own personal failures were responsible and I apologize to the city,” Filner said after the council voted 7-0 on a deal that ended a political stalemate after 17 women publicly accused him of harassment.
“To all the women that I’ve offended, I had no intention to be offensive, to violate any physical or emotional space,” he said. “I was trying to establish personal relationships, but the combination of awkwardness and hubris led to behavior that I think many found offensive.”
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But he challenged the harassment accusations. “Not one allegation has ever been independently verified or proven in court,” he said. “I have never sexually harassed anyone.”
The city will pay Filner’s legal fees in a joint defense of a lawsuit filed by the mayor’s former communications director and pay for any settlement costs assessed against the mayor except for punitive damages, said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. The city would also pay up to $98,000 if Filner wants to hire his own attorney.
Goldsmith said the city was obligated to provide his legal defense no matter what.
Filner, backed by a sometimes boisterous crowd of supporters, challenged the City Council to pursue a laundry list of his policy initiatives, ranging from addressing climate change to bringing the Olympic Games to the region. He warned of dire consequences if his priorities are ignored by well-entrenched power brokers.
“I am responsible for providing the ammunition,” he said. “I did that and I take full responsibility, but there are well-organized interests who have run this city for 50 years who pointed the gun, and the media and their political agents pulled the trigger.”
He choked up as he apologized to his former fiancée, Bronwyn Ingram, who ended the relationship just before the scandal erupted and called for him to resign.
“I love you very much. You came to love San Diego as much as I did, and you did memorable things in the short time that you were first lady,” he said.
Filner, 70, a liberal Democrat, served 20 years in Congress before becoming mayor of the nation’s eighth-largest city in December.
He is the third mayor of the city to step down in recent history. Roger Hedgecock, a Republican, left office after he was convicted of conspiracy in connection with an illegal campaign contribution in 1985. When San Diego faced widespread financial problems in 2005, earning it the nickname “Enron-by-the-Sea,” Mayor Richard Murphy, also a Republican, resigned during the first year of his second term.
“He’s made us the subject of ridicule again, and that’s a big blow to everybody,” Jerry Sanders, mayor from 2005 to 2012, said of Filner. “Everyone is going to want to move forward very quickly to get past this ugly chapter.”
Filner had previously insisted he still could be an effective mayor and underwent two weeks of behavioral therapy before returning to work this week. But his support diminished as more women — one of them a great-grandmother and another a retired Navy admiral — came forward.
Some of Filner’s closest political allies and all nine members of the council called on him to quit.
Dozens of people spoke for and against the mayor before the council convened behind closed doors to discuss terms negotiated between Filner and the city attorney.
Filner’s biggest bargaining chip at the negotiating table was his refusal to resign.
The deal does not include attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Filner’s former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, in a lawsuit filed against Filner and the city.
McCormack, as she is known professionally, was the first woman to go public with allegations against Filner, and her lawsuit is the only one filed against the mayor and the city. She claimed the mayor 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.
Filner still faces a criminal investigation. Nicholas Pacilio, a spokesman for the California Attorney General’s Office, confirmed after the mayor announced his resignation that an investigation had begun but declined to elaborate.
When Filner’s resignation takes effect, Todd Gloria, the Democratic City Council president, becomes acting mayor until a special election is held within 90 days.
Democrats enjoy a solid edge over Republicans in voter registration, but the GOP will capitalize on the Filner debacle to try to reclaim an office it has held for nearly all of the last four decades.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.