With deal in place, will San Diego mayor leave?

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Associated Press

Posted on August 22, 2013 at 5:01 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 22 at 5:06 PM

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A deal aimed at resolving the sexual harassment scandal involving Mayor Bob Filner hit a snag Thursday when the lawyer for the former Filner aide who sued her ex-boss said the lawsuit isn't part of the agreement, a potential sticking point to approval by the City Council.

Details of the agreement between city officials and Filner's lawyers haven't been disclosed, but going into the talks it was clear Filner needed to agree to quit for any deal to be struck.

A person with knowledge of the settlement talks said the main sticking points involved granting Filner indemnity in the sexual harassment lawsuit by his former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, and paying his legal fees. The person was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

On the eve of Friday's scheduled closed-door vote by the City Council, McCormack's lawyer, Gloria Allred, said she didn't agree to the deal and the lawsuit will continue.

"If the deal requires that the City Council pay him $1, then I, for one, think that they should vote against it," she said. "There should be no payoff for Mayor Filner. It would be a slap in the face to the mayor's many victims to see him get anything from the city of San Diego. His parting gift should be 'good riddance' instead of a handout."

At least 17 women have claimed Filner sexually harassed them, though only one lawsuit has been filed. All nine members of the City Council along with a laundry list of fellow Democrats including U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have called on Filner to quit.

San Diego State University political science professor Brian Adams said the City Council is in a no-win situation. The public wants Filner gone but doesn't want to see him get taxpayer money to pay his bills. If councilors don't vote for the deal, then Filner could stay in office and the city's political paralysis will continue as a recall effort moves ahead.

"It's not clear which one of those is going to be a stronger pull for City Council members, and what they are actually willing to give up in negotiating with Bob Filner," Adams said. "They know any use of public money to defend Bob Filner against these lawsuits is incredibly toxic, and the public will be outraged."

San Diego Democratic consultant Chris Crotty agreed. But he said if voters were told to decide between refusing his legal fees and risk having him remain in office or pay and guarantee he leaves: "I bet most would choose to hold their nose, say OK and pay the money to get him out."

Besides, he added, under California law the city must defend Filner even if the City Council ends up saying it won't.

"The law when it comes to sexual harassment holds the employer still liable for the actions of an employee," Crotty said. So upon a judgment against Filner, the city would be on the hook regardless of any action the City Council takes.

For his part, Filner has no reason to resign unless he secures an agreement that will shed his financial exposure, Adams said. The twice-divorced, former congressman has acknowledged disrespecting and intimidating women but has denied any sexual harassment.

"Filner knows he only has one bargaining chip and that's the fact that everyone wants him to resign," he said. "Once he resigns, he has no leverage."

The 70-year-old leader of the nation's eighth-largest city was back to work at City Hall on Thursday, his lawyers said, after all but vanishing over the past three weeks while undergoing therapy for his behavior.

His attorneys declined to comment on the proposed deal "due to the confidential nature of mediation and settlement discussions."

Francine Busby, chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Party, said voters will accept nothing short of resignation as part of a settlement.

"The voters are ready to get this behind them and move forward. It has to be resignation," she said.

Tony Krvaric, chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party, said voters may disapprove of the settlement if the city is stuck with high legal bills.

"There's a middle ground where it's probably reasonable," he said. "We'll see who got the better of whom."

The sex scandal has plunged the city into political turmoil. A recall effort has started and organizers have gathered about 10 percent of the roughly 100,000 signatures needed to call an election. Meanwhile, women have continued coming forward and saying Filner made unwanted advances and inappropriate statements to them.

McCormack was the first woman to go public with harassment allegations against Filner, who took office last December. 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.

Other accusers contend he cornered, groped and forcibly kissed them.

Should Filner resign, City Council President Todd Gloria would become acting mayor until a special election is held. Gloria and Councilman Kevin Faulconer attended the settlement talks.

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Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this report.

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