San Diego mayor set to return amid recall drive

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The time Mayor Bob Filner took off to attend therapy hasn’t helped alleviate the mounting troubles awaiting him at City Hall. Things have only gotten worse for the leader of the nation’s eighth-largest city.

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 them, groping and slobbering them with kisses.

The accusations have prompted an avalanche of calls for Filner to resign. Even the local Hooters restaurants posted signs saying he’s not welcome there.

When Filner took a two-week hiatus to get treatment for what he acknowledged has been unacceptable behavior — but did not term sexual harassment — he said he’d be back at work on Aug. 19. But whether he actually shows up Monday is anybody’s guess.

A recall campaign kicked off in earnest Sunday and if he does go back to work, Filner faces an uphill battle to prove he can still govern.

Filner’s former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, has 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. And he’s now under investigation for his handling of city finances, including questions over a trip to Paris.

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, leaving even his supporters wondering how he can survive.

“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. “This is a monumental hill that he has to surmount. 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 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 superimposed on it 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.”

His lawyers and his office did not respond to interview requests.

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.

Since the allegations surfaced, the city’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years went from near-daily appearances around town to vanishing from public view. Last month, he was caught on video fleeing from camera crews and reporters to a waiting driver who accelerated through a red light.

It’s uncertain now whether he will keep running from the cameras or face them.

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