(Adds comments from mayor's chief of staff, expert recall
By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO Aug 13 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 lawyers late on Monday,
just before a midnight deadline for the formal rebuttal to the
bipartisan recall drive, which has been spearheaded by a
Republican activist and a Democratic publisher of a gay and
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 with sexual harassment
allegations against Filner has since doubled. The allegations
against him span nine years, dating to his long tenure as a
member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Filner's lawyers said during the weekend that he was
completing his therapy on Saturday - about 10 days earlier than
originally planned - but would continue counseling on an
outpatient basis while remaining on personal leave for another
Nearly every elected official in San Diego has called on
Filner to resign, including all nine City Council members,
numerous state legislators, members of California's
congressional delegation and the San Diego County Democratic
Party Central Committee.
RECALL CAMPAIGN GAINS STEAM
The city last month 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.
On Tuesday, Filner's chief of staff, Lee Burdick, said the
scandal would curtail the mayor's ability to pursue his policy
objectives as aggressively as he might have otherwise.
"We're not going to be able to powerhouse through our agenda
any more," she told a luncheon meeting of local business and
civic leaders. "The way we will get things done is bring forward
policy and programs that are win-win for everyone."
The recall campaign began in July and gained strength when
two critics from opposite ends of the political spectrum joined
forces in early August - Republican Michael Pallmary, a
professional land surveyor from the wealthy San Diego enclave of
La Jolla, and Democrat Stampp Corbin, a gay African-American
publisher of the San Diego LGBT Weekly.
To qualify for the ballot under the city charter, recall
advocates must collect roughly 102,000 valid signatures for
their petition within 39 days, starting on Aug. 18, according to
Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute on
Government Reform and editor of the Recall Elections blog.
He said San Diego recall proponents would likely find that
hard to do and that few recall efforts nationally have managed
six-figure signature tallies in qualifying for the ballot.
The handful that did, he said, included the failed bid to
recall Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the recall
that ousted then-California Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, and
elected Hollywood film star Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican,
in his place.
Those campaigns also had much more time than San Diego's
mayoral opponents - between 120 and 160 days - to gather the
required petition signatures statewide, Spivak said. He said the
city's recall ordinance was also riddled with "litigation traps"
that could drag out the overall process.
If a recall election is authorized, voters will be asked two
questions - whether or not to remove Filner, and who they like
best to replace him from the list of candidates who have
qualified to oppose him.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Bill