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3:03 pm
Tue July 16, 2013

San Diego Mayor Accused Of Sexually Harassing Women

Originally published on Tue July 16, 2013 6:00 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Pressure is growing on the mayor of San Diego to resign. Democrat Bob Filner is being accused by former friends and supporters of sexually harassing women. Filner has apologized, but he also says he's innocent until proven otherwise.

Sandhya Dirks of member station KPBS has the story.

SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: Standing in the glaring sun next to San Diego City Hall, three former supporters of Democratic Mayor Bob Filner embraced in a group hug as they prepared to greet a sea of waiting television cameras. Just a year ago, these three prominent local progressives were campaigning for the mayor. Now, their message is drastically different.

DONNA FRYE: Bob Filner is tragically unsafe for any woman to approach.

DIRKS: That's Donna Frye. She helped Filner get elected as the first Democratic mayor of San Diego in decades, but she says her only concern now is the victims.

FRYE: We want the women of this city and the people who love them to know that sexual abuse and this behavior is not normal.

DIRKS: There is perhaps nothing normal about the way these accusations and the mayor's apology and subsequent denial are playing out. The women themselves are yet unnamed. After the accusations emerged, the mayor released a prerecorded statement. Filner looked directly into the camera and said I need help.

MAYOR BOB FILNER: 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. It's a good thing that behavior that would have been tolerated in the past is being called out in this generation for what it is - inappropriate and wrong.

DIRKS: But former supporters weren't appeased. The women still haven't come forward, but now, we are hearing lurid details of alleged assaults. One woman said he grabbed her breasts and, quote, "forced his tongue down her throat." Lawyer Marco Gonzalez represents the women. He describes an incident that happened to a woman he said worked for the mayor.

MARCO GONZALEZ: There is no circumstance under which it would be appropriate for the mayor to enter into an elevator with my client or any person who he employed and to tell them that they would do a better job on that floor if they worked without their panties on.

DIRKS: But that, Gonzalez said, is precisely what happened. The mayor says he is being denied due process. In an interview with TV station KUSI, Filner says it's all just rumor and innuendo and anonymous sources, and he says he's innocent until proven otherwise. The mayor says he and his actions have been misunderstood.

FILNER: I'm a hugger of both men and women. And if it turns out that that, well, as it turns out that those are taken in an offensive manner, I need to have a greater self-awareness.

DIRKS: Lawyer Marco Gonzalez says the mayor is so unaware he doesn't realize his actions rose to the level of abuse.

GONZALEZ: He didn't understand that what he had done was wrong, and yet, he admitted that he did it. And in one statement on one day, he says I apologize for treating women without respect. I apologize for intimidating them. And the very next day, he says I'm innocent. What does that tell you?

DIRKS: Gonzalez says the mayor's conflicting statements paint a picture of a man desperate to hang onto power. The mayor says he is confident he will be vindicated, and it looks like he will get to see if he is right. Lawyers for the women say they are preparing to file formal sexual harassment charges soon.

For NPR News, I'm Sandhya Dirks, in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.