San Diego City Council accepts plea deal hammered out in mediation earlier this week
SAN DIEGO – The San Diego City Council today agreed to a mediation plea deal that will lead to the resignation of embattled Mayor Bob Filner, sued for sexual harassment at City Hall and investigated by federal authorities of “play for play” allegations and by the city’s Ethics Commission for improprieties involving city credit cards and a controversial business trip to Paris.
The vote was 7-0 to accept the deal. Councilmembers Scott Sherman and Myrtle Cole were absent. It took five votes to pass.
City Council President said the settlement "ends our civil nightmare and will allow the city to heal."
As a result of the deal, Mayor Filner will resign at 5 pm Friday, Aug. 30. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the agreement does not absolve Filner of any criminal investigations and does not waive any money owed to the city that Filner may have spent unauthorized. Goldsmith said there would be a joint legal defense by the City and Filner's private attorneys on any legal matters relating to sexual harassment charges made by any current and past city workers or people who have done business with the City. He said the City's legal-coverage obligations would be capped at $98,000.
Mayor Filner was in the City Council chambers to speak, and he apologized to the city and his supporters and also to the 19 women who have accused him. "I will try to make amends," he said.
His voice then broke voice as he apologized to his former fiancé Bronwyn Ingram and said he loved her.
Filner blamed hubris and other shortcomings, but then suddenly switched from a humble tone to a defiant one. He adamantly refused to admit that he sexually harassed anyone, a contradiction to the apology he just made. He said the accusations and the media coverage produced a "hysteria of lynch mobs" that brought him down. He conveniently ignored his own "confession" last month on a DVD video in which he acknowledged the "demon inside" him.
By city charter rules, City Council President Todd Gloria will become Acting Mayor.
The City Council voted on the plea deal after hearing about 55 minutes of public comments from about three-dozen people. Some backed Filner, some backed the deal and some supported the recall efforts. Nobody approved of paying for the legal defense of Filner or providing any financial incentives for the Mayor to leave office.
The public comments section brought out the best, and the worst, of the citizenry. Partisan supporters invoked the need for “due process” for Filner, but some concocted wild conspiracy theories. One speaker called the Filner investigation a McCarthy-era “witch-hunt” and another blamed the local Republican Party for infiltrating the Mayor’s staff and trying to bring him down. Residents who wanted Filner out of official supported the 18 alleged victims, but some used loaded words to describe Filner as a “predator” and “sex abuser.”
Laura Fink, who said she was one of Filner’s victims, became emotional in describing her ordeal and implored the City Council to do the right thing.
Filner’s political career went into a tailspin in early July after his fiancé Bronwyn Ingram, whom the Mayor called the “first lady of San Diego” after his election in November 2012, abruptly dumped him and notified the media by email. Not long after that, women began coming forward with sexual harassment allegations against Filner, some dating back two decades, and described unwanted advances, groping of breasts and buttocks, “sloppy kisses,” and the “Filner headlock” that temporarily rendered the victims helpless to get out of his grasp.
On July 22, prominent civil-rights attorney Gloria Allred sued Filner and the City of San Diego on behalf of her client, Irene McCormack Jackson, who alleged sexual harassment by Filner when Jackson worked as Filner’s communications manager. A well-known and respected public figure, Jackson's story of harassment carried a lot of weight with the public, political and legal experts said.
On July 29, Filner via a DVD released to the media announced that he had a “demon inside” and would go to two weeks of intensive therapy, abandoning his office during that time, and followed up by a week’s leave of absence.
Since then, top leaders in both the Democratic and Republican parties have called on Filner to resign. Poll after poll showed that a supermajority of San Diegans agreed that Filner should step down.
The harassment allegations put a harsh international spotlight on San Diego, and Filner became the butt of jokes by comedians and pundits.
Not long after that, dueling recall campaigns clashed and then united, and signature-collecting began on Aug. 18.
Earlier this week, Filner went into mediation with a retired judge known for his mediation skills. After three long days of mediation, a plea deal was reached and then presented to the San Diego City Council on Friday afternoon.
Todd Gloria will be Acting Mayor until a new mayor can be elected in a special election, which is expected to bring out a slew of candidates. Gloria is a likely candidate in the special election.
Nathan Fletcher filed a "candidate intention statement" on Tuesday with the City Clerk's Office, becoming the first politician to show interest. Fletcher ran for mayor last year, finishing third and out of the runoff. Republican Carl DeMaio lost to Filner in a race that went down to the wire. A longtime Republican, Fletcher flipped to the Democratic Party late last year.
DeMaio is running for Congress against freshman Rep. Scott Peters, but his camp is weighing another run at the Mayor's Office. On Friday afternoon, DeMaio issued a statement after learning of the Filner resignation:
“With Bob Filner’s resignation, San Diego has been given a fresh start. Now is the time to put aside partisan differences to seek healing, foster unity and restore stability at City Hall.
"San Diegans from all walks of life, and every political party, worked together to demand Bob Filner leave office – and that unity of purpose should not stop with today’s development.
"Let’s commit to continue to work together on our city’s issues – without regard for party labels – to do the right thing for the city we all love so much.”
Some Democrats would like to draft Toni Atkins, Majority Leader of the California Assembly, or Christine Kehoe, who is out of politics after terming out in the California Senate.
City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, head of the city's Ethics Commission, is thought to be a leading candidate from the Republican side of the aisle.
Faulconer issued this statement after the council meeting today:
“This has been one of the most difficult and trying periods in our city’s history. It’s now time for us to come together, heal our city, and move San Diego forward.
"This agreement protects taxpayers and closes this sad chapter in San Diego’s history. I worked to ensure the best scenario possible for San Diego taxpayers. It would not have been possible without the City Attorney, the City Council and the passionate work of the San Diegans who launched an effort to recall Mayor Filner.
"Mayor Filner’s resignation will help bring back trust and certainty to City Hall. San Diegans can begin to regain control of their city, and City leaders can return to creating jobs and improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
"I will work tirelessly to restore stability and lead our city forward. San Diego has come together to say we are better than Bob Filner. Today, we have taken action to prove that to the world.”
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who finished fourth in the last mayoral election, said this week that they will not run in the special election. Another 2012 mayoral candidate, Tobiah Pettus, who got few votes, has indicated he will run.
A date for the special election has not been set.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at email@example.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.
As a matter of full disclosure, SDGLN Publisher Johnathan Hale has a personal relationship with Carl DeMaio.