By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – The city of San Diego sued its embattled mayor on Tuesday, seeking to recover from him any damages it might face in a lawsuit filed by his former press secretary, one of eight women to publicly accuse him of unwanted sexual advances.
The legal action against Mayor Bob Filner, approved by a unanimous vote of the city council earlier in the day, marked the latest blow against the 70-year-old Democrat as he faces mounting pressure to step down.
Despite calls from across the city and from powerful members of his own party to resign, Filner, a former congressman elected mayor just last year, has said that he would instead stay in office while undergoing two weeks of behavioral therapy starting August 5.
Filner’s former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the mayor and the city on July 22, alleging he asked her to work without panties, demanded kisses, told her he wanted to see her naked and held her in a head lock while whispering in her ear.
Since then, seven other women, including a retired U.S. Navy admiral and a college dean, have publicly accused Filner of groping and other inappropriate behavior.
The latest individual to come forward, Lisa Curtin, said in an interview aired on Tuesday by San Diego station KPBS that Filner suggested during a private meeting that they date one another, stroked the wedding band on her finger and reached over to kiss her.
“I turned my head at that moment and on the side of my face, I got a very wet, saliva-filled kiss including feeling his tongue on my cheek,” she told the station.
The city filed its lawsuit as a cross-complaint to Jackson’s, seeking to recover from Filner any damages it might be ordered to pay, along with court costs and attorneys fees.
“If Bob Filner engaged in unlawful conduct and the city is held liable, he will have to reimburse us every penny the city pays and its attorney fees,” City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, who had clashed with the mayor before the scandal emerged this month, said in a written statement.
Seven of nine members of the City Council, including Council President Todd Gloria who is a Democrat, have called on Filner to resign; two recall campaigns have been launched against him.
A spokeswoman for the mayor could not be reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon.
LEGAL, POLITICAL FIGHT
Hours after the city’s lawsuit was filed, council members voted unanimously to deny a request from Filner’s private attorney, Harvey Berger, to authorize the city to assume the mayor’s legal defense costs in the case. City attorney Goldsmith already has declined to defend the mayor.
“The mayor has no right to expect a blank check from San Diego taxpayers to cover for his bad acts,” Gloria said after the vote.
University of California, San Diego, political science professor Steven Erie said that it was rare for a city to refuse to pay for the legal defense of a municipal official in a sexual harassment lawsuit.
“It tells you just how bad mayor-council relationships have become” in San Diego, Erie said.
In the face of opposition from the City Council, Filner could establish a legal defense fund and raise donations to pay for his own attorney, Erie said, though he added: “The question is how much and how many and whether they want their names to be made public.”
On Sunday, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California became the latest prominent Democrat to call for Filner’s resignation during an interview on CNN. U.S. Representatives Susan Davis and Scott Peters, whose districts include parts of San Diego, previously called for him to step down.
Last week U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Filner should seek private counseling and compared his behavior to the conduct of another ex-congressman engulfed in a sex scandal since he turned to mayoral politics, Democrat Anthony Weiner of New York.
Weiner faces calls to withdraw from the New York City mayor’s race after admitting he sent lewd online messages to women since he resigned from Capitol Hill over such behavior two years ago.
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Philip Barbara)