News Column

Intern: San Diego Mayor 'Berated, Belittled Women'

July 28, 2013

An unpaid intern in the office of Mayor Bob Filner says he quit in protest after seeing the mayor repeatedly "berate and belittle women in the office."

Christopher Baker, in a signed declaration given to KPBS, says that derogatory terms about women and "the physical contact is what I noticed most."

The declaration mentions a woman who, after a press conference in La Jolla, asked for a picture with the mayor.

The 70-year-old Democrat "started telling her that she was beautiful and asking about her relationship status. I noticed that he was very touchy, in a way that he never is with men."

In the declaration, Baker says that he doubts other staff members will tell the truth about Filner "because people's jobs are on the line." He said he quit his job because "it compromised my moral compass too much to continue working in that environment. It's not how my father raised me to behave around women."

Baker worked for director of communication Irene McCormack Jackson and press secretary Lena Lewis. Jackson quit Filner's office and has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him and the city, seeking unspecified damages.

Six other women have also accused Filner of sexual misconduct. Jackson and the six have all demanded that he resign.

Baker's declaration was filed with attorney Marco Gonzalez. Gonzalez, attorney Cory Briggs and former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, all former supporters of Filner, demanded two weeks ago that Filner resign, starting a controversy that has dominated local political circles and the media.

A poll done for the U-T San Diego newspaper and KGTV-Channel 10 found that 69% of those questioned believe Filner should resign.

The results were released Wednesday, after Jackson's lawsuit was announced but a day before four women, including a retired Navy admiral and San Diego State dean, accused Filner of touching them inappropriately and making sexually suggestive comments.

On Friday, the executive director of the city's Commission for Arts and Culture announced her resignation, only two months after being appointed by Filner. "I cannot in good conscience remain part of the Filner administration," Denise Montgomery wrote in announcing her resignation.

Filner on Friday told a packed news conference that he plans to undergo behavioral therapy to learn how to stop treating women disrespectfully.

But the surprise announcement has only increased demands for his resignation or recall among San Diego City Council members.

Councilwoman Sherri Lightner said Filner should resign because he "can no longer effectively lead our city." A Democrat, Lightner had been among three council members who held out while six others called for Filner to resign.

Councilman Mark Kersey, a Republican, asked Council President Todd Gloria to put an item on a meeting agenda to allow the council to iron out legal difficulties with the city's recall procedures.

The city's recall laws "are contradictory, not in conformance with state law, and likely unconstitutional," said Kersey, who has called for Filner to resign.

Filner has so far resisted the pressure for him to step down amid allegations of sexual harssment of staff members, constituents and others. There is no impeachment process in the city charter.

A citizens group has announced plans for a recall movement against Filner, a difficult process requiring large-scale signature-gathering to qualify the issue for a public vote. The last recall of a San Diego city official was in 1991.

City law needs to be changed, Kersey said, so that "voters may have confidence in the legal viability of future [recall] elections." In a recall, the ballot asks about recalling the incumbent and then lists candidates seeking to be the replacement.

Kersey noted that a provision in the city rules says that "no vote cast for a candidate shall be counted unless the voter also voted on the recall question." A similar rule in state law for state recalls was struck down by the courts in 2003, he said.

Even if legal problems are eliminated, recall remains a difficult process. Political professionals doubt that a volunteer-only group, like the one that has vowed to recall Filner, can gather enough signatures.

Reaction among city council members to Filner's plan to undergo two weeks of therapy at a residential facility was uniformly negative.

Filner "continues to put his needs in front of the needs of his victims and the citizens of San Diego," said Councilwoman Lorie Zapf.

The toughest comment came from Councilman Scott Sherman: "San Diegans should accept nothing less than Bob Filner's resignation and/or arrest."

At his news conference, Filner said he would undergo the therapy at a residential facility starting Aug. 5 and return to City Hall full-time Aug. 19. "I must become a better person," he said.

Filner apologized for engaging in behavior toward women "over many years" that he called disrespectful and intimidating. But he stopped short of admitting that he has sexually harassed women.


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