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San Diego mayor Filner seeks therapy, won't quit as accusations pile up

San Diego mayor Bob Filner attends the ground breaking ceremony for improvements for the San Diego Trolley system in San Diego, California July 25, 2013. (Photo by Sam Hodgson/Reuters)
San Diego mayor Bob Filner attends the ground breaking ceremony for improvements for the San Diego Trolley system in San Diego, California July 25, 2013.

After weeks of accusations of sexual harassment from a number of women, and after his local Democratic party leadership overwhelmingly asked him to resign, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner said he will enter therapy--but not resign.

During a press conference on Friday, Filner said that beginning Aug. 5, he will enter a 2-week intensive therapy program.

“Words alone are not enough,” he said. “I am responsible for my conduct and I must take responsibility for my actions.” Filner called his actions “wrong” and “inexcusable” and said he has reached out to apologize to the women he has offended.

Filner said the counseling was just the first step in a continuing program, but insisted he would return to office on Aug. 19. “I must become a better person,” the mayor said, adding he hopes that someday he will be forgiven. “I need to demonstrate my behavior has changed.”

The mayor began a press conference around 3 p.m. EST but he was cut off abruptly when the audio cut out. He left the podium only to return a few minutes later and start his speech again.

For nearly two weeks, the 70-year-old Democrat has refused to call it quits in the face of sexual harassment allegations , even after four additional women have stepped forward to accuse Filner of various sexual advances. But the mayor is making this stand alone: Even his own party said it’s time for him to step down.

While the sex scandals surrounding other former lawmakers trying to make political comebacks have been swirling in national headlines in recent months--Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer--the accusations against Filner are particularly jaw-dropping because of the seriousness of the allegations and the number of women--seven--who have come forward.

Filner’s former director of communications, Irene McCormack Johnson, filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages for how the former congressman treated her. She claims that he put her in a headlock, demanded kisses, and even suggested she come to work without her underwear on. This is not just sexting and infidelity--the accusations against Filner are potentially far more serious.

On Thursday, before the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee voted 34-6 to call on the mayor and 10-term congressman to resign, Filner asked those in the country’s eighth largest city and second largest in the state to merely “take a deep breath, let that process work itself out. Meanwhile, we got a city to run.”

When allegations first surfaced in mid-July, Filner released a video on YouTube, apologizing  for his “inappropriate and wrong” behavior, and said he was working with “professionals” to fix the problem. The mayor, however, refused to acknowledge he sexually harassed anyone.

Filner, who is less than eight months into a four-year term, did not return requests for comment on Friday.

Francine Busby, the chair of San Diego County’s Democratic Party, told that Democrats have told her office that it's “time for the mayor to step down, take the time he needs to get help and for the city to move forward.” According to city rules, in order for the mayor to be dumped, he must resign or be recalled, which has a high threshold.  “If the mayor doesn’t step down, we hope he’ll get the help he needs,” said Busby.

The Democratic National Committee is also weighing in. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz released a statement on Friday declaring the misconduct Filner has been accused of is “reprehensible and indefensible.” She also called on the mayor to step down.

"I am personally offended by his actions and I firmly believe no employee should face a hostile environment or harassment at their place of employment. There is no place for this type of conduct in the workplace and certainly not in our city halls and public offices," said Wasserman Schultz.

On Thursday, four additional women holding prominent positions in the city gave a joint interview to San Diego’s KPBS-TV to describe Filner’s alleged sexual misconduct.

Businesswoman Patti Roscoe recounted how Filner would put her into a headlock and try to kiss her on the lips, as recently as a few months ago. “I’d have to squirm to get away…I turned and he just slobbered down my chin." Sharon Bernie-Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, retired Navy rear-admiral Veronica Froman and Joyce Gattas, dean of San Diego State University’s College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, also shared stories of Filner’s sexual comments and unwanted conduct.

Roscoe said the women decided to speak out now, especially because of the young women who work for Filner. “We don’t want to say ‘oh, that’s just Bob…To think that my silence, our silence is affecting those young women is devastating. I think it’s just time that we stood up and say ‘we cannot have this kind of immoral man leading our city.’”

Filner allegedly told McCormack Jackson “When are you going to get naked? Come on and give me a kiss.” Froman said Filner whispered to her “Do you  have a man in your life?”

Currently, Filner (by order of a city attorney) is no longer allowed to meet one-on-one with women if he’s on city property. The exception is if he's with his chief-of-staff... who is also a woman.