By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, in his first public statement since taking a leave of absence to enter sexual harassment therapy, refused to bow to a campaign seeking his ouster through a recall election, touting his accomplishments in office instead.
"Now is not the time to go backwards," Filner declared in a formal answer to opponents' notice of their intention to file a recall petition with the city clerk's office. "We need to continue to move forward."
The brief letter was released by his private lawyers late Monday, just before the midnight deadline for a formal rebuttal to the bipartisan recall drive, which has been spearheaded by a Republican activist and a Democratic publisher of a gay and lesbian newspaper.
Filner's statement made no explicit mention of the sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed the 70-year-old Democrat and former U.S. congressman eight months after he took office as mayor of California's second-largest city.
Instead, it highlighted Filner's efforts to revitalize parts of the city outside its downtown area and his role in negotiating a new labor contract with municipal employees.
It was Filner's first public comment since he announced July 26 that he was taking a break from office to undergo two weeks of intensive behavioral counseling to deal with what he called a pattern of disrespectful and "intimidating" treatment of women.
By then, more than half a dozen women had publicly accused Filner of groping and making other unwanted sexual advances toward them, starting with a former press secretary who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the mayor and the city.
The number of women coming forward to level sexual harassment allegations against Filner has since doubled. The allegations against the mayor span a period of nine years, dating back to his long tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Nearly every elected official in the city of San Diego has called on Filner to resign, as have numerous state legislators, members of California's congressional delegation and the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee. The recall campaign began in July.
The city has brought its own lawsuit against the mayor, seeking to recover any damages the municipal government might incur in litigation against Filner. The City Council also unanimously voted to deny Filner's request for San Diego to assume his legal expenses in the case.
Filner's lawyers said over the weekend that he was completing his therapy on Saturday - about 10 days earlier than originally planned - but said he would continue counseling on an outpatient basis while remaining on personal leave for another week.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Grant McCool)