SAN DIEGO (AP) — The mayor of San Diego apologized for his behavior Thursday after a prominent former supporter accused him of sexually harassing women and urged him to resign as leader of the nation's eighth-largest city.
Mayor Bob Filner said he failed to respect women who work for him and he intimidated them at times.
Without detailing his actions, Filner, 70, called his behavior inappropriate and wrong and said he "diminished" the office. He said he needed help and pleaded with voters for patience.
"If my behavior doesn't change, I cannot succeed in leading our city," said Filner, who in November was elected the city's first Democratic mayor in 20 years. "You have every right to be disappointed in me. I only ask that you give me an opportunity to prove I am capable of change, so that the vision I have for our city's future can be realized."
[Story: Reaction to Mayor Filner's apology]
Donna Frye, a former councilwoman and once a key supporter of Filner, choked up earlier in the day as she called for Filner to step down, calling it one of the most difficult decisions she has made. She said the allegations were based on firsthand accounts but refused to divulge specifics such as the nature of the abuse or whether it occurred while Filner was mayor.
Frye, who is embraced by Filner's liberal base, said more than one woman told her about being harassed, but she didn't elaborate.
"I believe what they have told me, and they need to know that they are not alone," she said at a news conference. "There are people who support and care about them."
Marco Gonzalez, an environmental attorney who joined Frye in calling for the mayor's resignation, said the former councilwoman wouldn't comment on Filner's apology until Friday.
Filner, who is divorced, said he has started working with professionals to change his behavior and that he and his staff will participate in training regarding sexual harassment. He said he will personally apologize to current and former employees over the next few days, including men and women.
"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," he said.
The apology came as Filner's allies clamored for an explanation.
"When a friend like Donna Frye is compelled to call for my resignation, I'm clearly doing something wrong," the mayor said.
The scandal erupted during a bad stretch for Filner, who was elected to a four-year term after 20 years in Congress. On Monday, his fiance, Bronwyn Ingram, announced in an email to her team of volunteers that she was breaking their engagement.
"I am extremely disappointed and heartbroken, both for what Team First Lady could have accomplished, and for me, personally; however, this is the only action I can take given the devolvement of our personal relationship," Ingram wrote.
Two top Filner aides recently quit. Allen Jones, his deputy chief of staff, resigned at a staff meeting over what Filner called disagreements about how he was running the office. When Filner asked if anyone else in the room wanted out, Irene McCormack, his communications director, came forward.
Frye served as Filner's director of open government for several months until resigning for a position at Californians Aware, a group that advocates for open government.
Frye lost a write-in bid for mayor in 2004 when several thousand voters who wrote her name on the ballot failed to darken the adjoining ovals. If those ballots were counted, she would have unseated Republican Dick Murphy, who later resigned amid a scandal over city finances.
Frye said Thursday she wouldn't run if Filner resigned.
Mayor Filner's statement:
MAYOR BOB FILNER APOLOGIZES TO THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO
(San Diego) – Today, Mayor Bob Filner issued the following statement to the people of San Diego:
I begin today by apologizing to you. I have diminished the office to which you elected me.
The charges made at today's news conference are serious. When a friend like Donna Frye is compelled to call for my resignation, I'm clearly doing something wrong. I have reached into my heart and soul and realized I must and will change my behavior.
As someone who has spent a lifetime fighting for equality for all people, 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.
I am also humbled to admit that I need help. I have begun to work with professionals to make changes in my behavior and approach. In addition, my staff and I will participate in sexual harassment training provided by the city. Please know that I fully understand that only I am the one that can make these changes.
If my behavior doesn't change, I cannot succeed in leading our city. In the next few days, I will be reaching out to those who now work in the Mayor's Office or have previously worked for me – both men and women – to personally apologize for my behavior.
I will also be announcing fundamental changes within the Mayor's Office designed to promote a new spirit of cooperation, respect and effectiveness.
You have every right to be disappointed in me. I only ask that you give me an opportunity to prove I am capable of change, so that the vision I have for our city's future can be realized.
[Mayor Filner's Statement - PDF File]
[Mayor Filner's Statement - MP3 Audio File Click Here >> ]
THIS IS A STORY UPDATE. For an earlier version, read below.
SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Repeating a call made in letters earlier this week, three former supporters urged Mayor Bob Filner Thursday to resign amid sexual harassment allegations, although they declined to release details of the claims.
"When I received credible first-hand evidence of more than one woman being sexually harassed, I could not, not act," former Councilwoman Donna Frye said, her voice cracking at times. "I believe what they have told me and they need to know that they are not alone."
Frye, who until April served as Filner's director of open government, was joined at a news conference by attorneys Marco Gonzalez and Cory Briggs, each of whom sent letters to the mayor requesting he immediately resign.
Filner was expected to release a statement at 3 p.m., according to spokeswoman Lena Lewis.
Gonzalez, known for lawsuits challenging coastal fireworks, would not provide details of the alleged harassment -- including the number of victims, their identities or the specific allegations made.
"At this point, I think what's best for the community is for the mayor to hear our pleas, to respond appropriately, and that appropriate response in our opinion today is to step down and let us move forward with the healing and let these women continue to go on with their lives without having to be twice victimized," Gonzalez said.
Briggs, who sued to stop the convention center expansion and renewal of the city's Tourism Marketing District, said in a letter faxed to the mayor's office that "long-term damage" to the principles of open government would be caused if Filner remained in office.
"At this point, I cannot maintain my credibility in the community as an advocate for good government while pretending that your office has not been irreversibly compromised," Briggs wrote, adding his "request" was made reluctantly, since he shares the mayor's views on what's wrong with the city and the ways to fix the problems.
Reaction to the allegations began pouring in from local officials.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, said "serious and grievous accusations of harassment" were conveyed to him by people he knew and trusted, although the facts were not yet fully known.
"However, if the allegations are true, this behavior is inexcusable, shows terrible disregard for women, the voters and the thousands of people who worked tirelessly to support the mayor's candidacy," Peters said.
Former Mayor Jerry Sanders said the "recent events at City Hall are unfortunate and we hope these women are not further victimized."
City Council President Todd Gloria said people should be able to work in an environment free of harassment and intimidation.
"I offer my assurance to any person who may have been harassed that their claims will not be discounted should they come forward," Gloria said. "All applicable administrative and legal protocols will be followed by the city."
The 70-year-old mayor, who was elected last year after serving 10 years in Congress, has had a tumultuous few weeks.
Briggs said he filed lawsuits to nullify City Council approval of a waiver of municipal policy on setbacks for a developer who donated $100,000 to the city, which was later returned, and to force the release of an un-redacted transcript of a closed session between Filner, the City Council and the City Attorney's Office, in which the mayor berated one of the city's top lawyers and ordered his removal by police.
It was reported last week that federal investigators plan to investigate the mayor's office's about-face on the setback policy waiver for Sunroad Enterprises, which is constructing apartment buildings in Kearny Mesa.
Filner blamed the donation on ex-Deputy Chief of Staff Allen Jones, who recently resigned. Jones told reporters he left his job because of the way the mayor treats his employees.
On Monday, Filner's 48-year-old fiancee announced that she had broken off their engagement. Bronwyn Ingram said she would no longer pursue projects to help San Diego's homeless.