SAN DIEGO (AP) — Irene McCormack Jackson says she endured months of harassment from Mayor Bob Filner while serving as his communications director, and the turning point came at a staff meeting in June when another top aide confronted the mayor over his behavior and quit.
“You are running a terrible office. You are treating women in a horrible manner. What you are doing may even be illegal,” Allen Jones, then Filner’s deputy chief of staff and a longtime confidante, is quoted saying in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by McCormack.
McCormack chimed in, “I agree with Allen. You are horrible.” When the mayor challenged her for an example, she said she replied, “How about when you said that I should take my panties off and work without them.”
The episode is described in the lawsuit McCormack filed Monday against Filner, dealing another blow to San Diego’s first Democratic leader in 20 years. His own party appears split on his leadership, though many Democrats have joined Republicans in calling for the former 10-term congressman to resign less than eight months into a four-year term.
McCormack is the first person to publicly identify herself as a target of Filner’s advances, suing nearly two weeks after some of the mayor’s prominent former supporters said he sexually harassed women and demanded he resign.
Filner rejected McCormack’s claims in a brief statement that once again signaled he had no plans to step down. He didn’t address any specific allegations.
“I do not believe these claims are valid. That is why due process is so important. I intend to defend myself vigorously and I know that justice will prevail,” he said.
McCormack worked for nine years at the Port of San Diego, most recently earning $175,000 a year as vice president of public policy, and was previously a journalist for 25 years. She took an annual pay cut of $50,000 to join Filner’s inner circle in January.
U-T San Diego, the city’s dominant newspaper and her onetime employer, editorialized that she came across as “composed and highly credible” at a news conference Monday with her high-profile attorney, Gloria Allred.
“She is well-known, liked and respected in the city’s political, business and media circles,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial that concluded, “Unless there is a dramatic development helping Filner, we suspect the conventional wisdom about the difficulty of mounting a successful mayoral recall will soon change.”
The lawsuit brought renewed calls from two city councilmen for Filner to step aside. Kevin Faulconer and Todd Gloria said the mayor’s office was paralyzed.
“This is taking critical attention from the issues that affect San Diego families,” said Gloria, a Democrat who, as council president, would be interim mayor if Filner resigned.
McCormack says in her lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court that the leader of the nation’s eighth-largest city demanded kisses and dragged her around in headlocks while whispering sexual advances.
In February, he allegedly put McCormack in a headlock while they rode an elevator with a police officer who was adjusting his handcuffs, prompting him to tell her, “You know what I would like to do with those handcuffs?” On another elevator ride, Filner allegedly said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you took off your panties and worked without them on?”
The lawsuit says Filner asked McCormack to marry him, including once while he had her in a strong headlock during a doughnut break at a constituent event in April. The 70-year-old divorced man was engaged at the time to Bronwyn Ingram, who announced this month that she ended the relationship.
While reviewing a draft press release in June, Filner allegedly asked McCormack for a kiss and said, “I am infatuated with you. When are you going to get naked?” When she asked him to leave her office, the lawsuit says he responded, “I can go anywhere I want, any time I want.”
No one had publicly identified herself as a target of Filner’s advances until Monday. Last week, former supporters said Filner forcibly kissed a campaign volunteer on a public sidewalk and groped her in her car. Another constituent who attended a mayoral event at City Hall said Filner took her to an enclosed area, dismissed a staff member, asked her on a date and kissed her.
An employee who worked for the mayor for six months complained that Filner grabbed her buttocks and touched her chest, according to the former supporters.
McCormack, who now works for the city in a job that doesn’t report to the mayor, said she saw Filner “place his hands where they did not belong on numerous women.” Her lawsuit said, without elaborating, that three women had to be driven home because of his “abusive treatment” and five schedulers resigned over his behavior.
After the initial allegations surfaced, Filner apologized for disrespecting and sometimes intimidating women. “I need help,” he declared.
On Friday, he welcomed the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s decision to open a hotline to take calls from any possible victims of his misconduct, saying “some of these allegations will finally be addressed by an appropriate investigative authority rather than by press conference and innuendo.”