By ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Bob Filner is embroiled in turmoil less than a year after being elected San Diego's first Democratic mayor in 20 years, facing old questions about his confrontational style and a new challenge over allegations that he sexually harassed women.
Filner on Thursday rejected calls from prominent former supporters to resign but he apologized for mistreating women and pleaded with voters for patience, saying, "I need help." Without detailing his actions, Filner called his behavior inappropriate and wrong and said he "diminished" the office.
"If my behavior doesn't change, I cannot succeed in leading our city," he said. "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."
Former Councilwoman Donna Frye, who is embraced by Filner's liberal base, choked up hours earlier while calling on Filner to step down, calling it one of the most difficult decisions she has made. She said the allegations were based on victims' firsthand accounts but refused to divulge specifics such as the nature of the abuse or whether it occurred while Filner was mayor.
Frye, who said she wouldn't seek office if Filner resigned, was expected to comment Friday on the mayor's apology.
Detractors portrayed Filner, 70, as a short-tempered bully long before he was elected to lead the nation's eighth-largest city in November. As a 10-term congressman, he berated Veterans Affairs officials who testified before him. In 2007, he had a run-in with a United Airlines baggage handler at Dulles International Airport that led to him pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of trespassing.
As mayor, he has clashed repeatedly with the elected city attorney, Jan Goldsmith. He crashed a Goldsmith news conference in February about tourism marketing revenue, commandeered the podium, and accused the city attorney of "unethical and unprofessional conduct" for scrutinizing the mayor's position on the issue through the news media. Last month, he ordered a Goldsmith deputy to leave a closed-door City Council meeting, saying the attorney spoke without being recognized and refused to sit down when told.
Allen Jones, his deputy chief of staff, recently 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.
In a rare moment of self-reflection during a regular monthly news conference in June, Filner acknowledged the office turbulence caused him to question his behavior.
"Anybody who's intelligent would have to undergo some self-examination," he said.
Yet he also remained feisty and defiant, dismissing the staff departures as normal occurrences under a demanding boss.
"It's a high-pressure, high tension situation, and some people can adapt, some people can't," he said.
Filner, who is divorced, was unequivocally contrite in his apology Thursday, saying he failed to respect women and intimidated them at times. He said he would personally apologize to current and former employees over the next few days and that he is getting professional help.
"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.
On Monday, Filner's fiance, Bronwyn Ingram, said she was ending the engagement, calling it "the only action I can take given the devolvement of our personal relationship."
Some Democratic leaders in San Diego said after Filner's apology that the mayor should stay in office.
"Like all San Diegans, I am deeply disappointed by Mayor Filner's conduct toward women," said Francine Busby, chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Party. "Now that he has taken responsibility for his actions, I will hold him to his promises."
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