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Filner Vows to Fight Harassment Suit: ‘I Do Not Believe These Claims Are Valid’

Former U-T reporter Irene McCormack Jackson is first accuser to step forward, alleging mayor made her feel “ashamed, frightened and violated.”

Irene McCormack Jackson (right) with attorney Gloria Allred. Credit: Michelle Mowad
Irene McCormack Jackson (right) with attorney Gloria Allred. Credit: Michelle Mowad

Originally posted at 1:05 p.m. July 22, 2013

Written by Ken Stone and Michelle Mowad

Mayor Bob Filner made his former communications chief feel “ashamed, frightened and violated,” she said Monday, becoming the first purported victim to step forward in the former congressman’s sex-harassment scandal.

Irene McCormack Jackson—a 25-year U-T San Diego reporter who worked with the San Diego mayor as his director of communications—said Filner told her he wanted to marry her.

“Wouldn't it be great if we consummated the marriage?” Filner is quoted as saying in a lawsuit filed by celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred.

The former aide was joined at a downtown press conference by Allred, who also said Filner “needs to resign.”

A little after 5:30 p.m., Filner's office issued a statement, quoting the mayor: “I am saddened by the charges that were leveled against me today.  Once due process is allowed to unfold,  I am certain there will be a better understanding of this situation.

“I remain committed to the people of San Diego and the work that needs to be done.  My dreams and plans for moving this City to new heights are continuing.  I humbly ask that through this vicious storm of controversy, people take a moment and temper their rush to judgment.

Also see:

Twitterverse Abuzz on Filner Follies: Calls for Resignation Ramp Up

Faulconer, Gloria Say City Business Will Continue Amid 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.”

The 18-page lawsuit targeting Filner and the city of San Diego alleges several incidents, including one in late February or early March. 

The suit says Filner encountered McCormack, 57, alone in an elevator:

“As soon as the elevator doors closed, Defendant Mayor Filner pulled Plaintiff McCormack Jackson toward him while placing his arms around her without her consent.

“He said in sum or substance, ‘You are beautiful. I have always loved you. Someday I know that you are going to marry me. I am so in love with you. Wouldn’t it be great if you took off your panties and worked without them on?’”

The suit said she was aghast and pushed him away but that Filner stated: “Come on. Give me a kiss.” 

When McCormack Jackson turned away, he kissed her on the cheek without her consent, the suit said.

“Mayor Filner only ceased trying to kiss her when the elevator stopped and a staffer got in with them,” the suit said.

In a June incident, Filner allegedly was reading a press release with McCormack.

“As ... Filner got up to leave, with the door to her office open, he said ... ‘You are so beautiful. I am infatuated with you. When are you going to get naked? Come on, give me a kiss,’” the suit said.

As McCormack tried to get Filner to leave her office, “he kissed her on the cheek. Plaintiff sternly told him that he needed to leave her office. ... Mayor Filner replied, ‘You cannot kick me out. I am the mayor. I can go anywhere I want, any time I want.’”

McCormack said she had been proud to join the Democratic mayor’s team in January, but that she later found herself viewed as a sexual object by Filner, who made “crude and disgusting comments.”

She said she had done nothing to invite the comments.

In an April incident alleged in the suit, the mayor opened the lobby of City Hall to meet with the public and decided to take a break for chocolate doughnuts. 

“Without her consent, ... Filner put ... McCormack Jackson in a headlock and puller her along with him as he made his way towards the doughnuts,” the suit says. 

But she could not get away, it continued, saying: “His grip was too strong. As Mayor Filner pulled her along, he told her that she was ‘so beautiful’ and that he had loved her for a long time. Plaintiff could not move. 

“He asked her: ‘When are we going to get married? Wouldn't it be great if we consummated the marriage?’ All Plaintiff McCormack Jackson could think to say was, ‘Sir, you have people out there.’ He finally released her.”

Allred, whose news conference was posted on YouTube, said McCormack would have run away before she took the job in January if she knew what awaited her.

“Irene soon learned that what she was really getting into, when she accepted the position as communications director, was that in order to do her job was that she would have to endure the `Filner headlock’ while he made degrading and humiliating sexual comments to her,” Allred said at a crowded Westin Hotel news conference.

McCormack said she did not have a relationship with the 70-year-old mayor outside work, nor did she want one.

She said being introduced as part of Filner's administration was initially one of the proudest days of her career.

“However, the past six months turned out to be the worst time of my entire working life,” McCormack said. “I had to work and do my job in an atmosphere where women were viewed by Mayor Filner as sexual objects or stupid idiots. I saw him place his hands where they did not belong on numerous women.”

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said his office will defend the city, while Filner is represented by lawyer Harvey Berger.

The mayor at some point will be able to ask the City Council to reimburse his personal legal expenses. On the other hand, the city can file a cross-complaint seeking reimbursement from Filner if the municipal government has to pay damages when the lawsuit is resolved, Goldsmith said.

The city has taken some temporary steps in response to the allegations, he said.

“Arising from that, and at my request, the mayor is not to meet with women alone at city facilities,” Goldsmith said. “That was agreed to by his lawyer, and it is being enforced by the chief of staff, deputy chief of staff. The chief of police is also aware of that and has made certain commitments.”

Goldsmith said employees have been notified about their rights and given telephone numbers to seek help, if necessary.

He said the steps do not imply culpability on anyone’s part. The mayor’s office has cooperated with the restrictions, he said    

McCormack said she gave up a position as vice president with the Port of San Diego, and accepted a $50,000 pay cut, so she could join a progressive
administration.

The recent resignation Deputy Chief of Staff Allen Jones was the turning point for her, according to McCormack, who now works as communications director for the City Operations Department.

“I knew then that Mayor Filner would not change,” McCormack said. “He refused to listen to someone who he had known for 35 years and who told him explicitly during a senior staff meeting that his behavior with women was terrible and possibly illegal. Mayor Filner laughed it off.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. Allred said she plans to ask for what is supported by evidence that eventually comes out.

Allred did not comment on whether her client complained to supervisors or whether she knows of potential other victims.    

Working in the mayor’s office was the “worst time in my working life,” said McCormack, who took a $50,000 pay cut as a former Port District executive to join Filner at City Hall but resigned as communications chief in June.

She said she is still working for the city but in a different communications job.

McCormack, a mother of two grown daughters, worked at the Port of San Diego for nine years, first as director of communications and governmental affairs and later as vice president of external relations and public policy.

“Prior to joining the Port District, Ms. McCormack spent 25 years as a journalist, working as a newsroom manager, reporter and assistant metro editor for The San Diego Union-Tribune,” an online profile said. “Her specialty was government, politics and public safety. 

McCormack attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, and UC San Diego.

More than 80 supporters of a fledgling effort to recall Filner rallied Friday outside City Hall and signed up volunteers to collect petition signatures.

The effort was spearheaded by land-use consultant Michael Pallamary, who needs to collect nearly 102,000 valid signatures to get a recall effort on the ballot.

Filner has been hounded over the past week by sexual harassment allegations that have made national news.

Pallamary read a long list of Filner’s alleged transgressions, which he said included disrespecting and intimidating women, acting in a “divisive” and “disruptive” manner, creating chaos in the city, failing to maintain the dignity of the mayor’s office and discussing being possessed by a “monster” in a recent interview.

As of Monday afternoon, nearly 5,400 “likes” were recorded on the “Recall Bob Filner” Facebook page. 

Pallamary started the page last month, well before three of Filner’s former top supporters went public with sexual harassment allegations, which they say involve two constituents and a city employee who used to work in the mayor’s office.

Numerous other local office-holders, many Democrats like Filner, also have called for the mayor to step down.

Filner apologized at first, but later demanded due process rights and an investigation.

On Thursday, around 30 Filner supporters demanded the same for the mayor at a news conference held at the Civic Center Plaza.

“We all stand for due process,” Pallamary said. “Due process, though, is a legal process. That’s what happens with a court. Now, whether Mayor Filner resigns or he’s recalled, he is facing due process, and none of us ca influence that in any way.”

Mike Slater, a radio talk show host with 760 KFMB, said the harassment issue with Filner was “all about power,” not a sex scandal.

“Mayor Filner was not lustful for women as much as he is lustful for power,” Slater told the audience. “And for that reason, he is not going to resign and relinquish his power until we the people tell him, and remind him, whom he works for.”

It will be a long process for Filner to repent, and during that time he shouldn’t be mayor, Slater said.

Before the harassment allegations were raised, Filner had to return $100,000 donated to the city by a developer right around the time the mayor’s office made a policy about-face regarding one of the donor’s projects.

That transaction is the subject of a federal investigation, according to published reports.

Also, Filner has been criticized for berating and having police remove a top official with the City Attorney’s Office from a closed session meeting with the City Council.

The mayor has also come under question for a trip to Paris in which his travel was paid for by an Iranian resistance group, but taxpayers had to pick up a tab of thousands of dollars for his police detail.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department will be the lead investigative agency for any sexual harassment complaints against Filner, according to statements issued today by the department and District Attorney’s Office.

The decision came following a discussion among area law enforcement leaders, according to the two agencies.

Sheriff Bill Gore called the allegations  “extremely sensitive matters.” He said the agency will not release details of ongoing investigations, and the alleged victims will be provided anonymity.

A hotline has been set up at (619) 481-0220. The Sheriff’s Department said the number should only be used by those willing to come forward with information.

Any cases that arise will be handled by Capt. Duncan Fraser of the sheriff’s Central Investigations unit.

“I very much welcome the fact that some of these allegations will finally be addressed by an appropriate investigative authority rather than by press conference and innuendo,” Filner said. “As I have stated before, everyone deserves due process and I am encouraged an effort to implement that has begun.”

Also last week, the chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Party said that allegations of sexual harassment against Filner are grounds for his resignation, if proven to be true.

The statement released by Francine Busby came after a meeting of the county party’s central committee Thursday night, at which attendees were divided as to whether the mayor should step down immediately.

In the statement, Busby said the discussion at the meeting was “intense, honest, and deeply personal” but failed to reach a consensus.

“However, I can share some broad areas of agreement among Democratic Party leaders,” Busby said. “We unequivocally condemn sexual harassment and
workplace intimidation. We abhor the actions he is alleged to have taken against women, even as we recognize that all the individuals involved have a
legal right to a fair hearing.

“The mayor has betrayed the trust of the people of San Diego,” said Busby, a one-time candidate for Congress. “These serious charges, if shown to be true, are grounds for immediate resignation. The Democratic Party will continue to monitor this situation and take further steps as warranted.”

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, declined to call for the resignation of Filner, who represented San Diego in Congress for 20 years.

Pelosi told reporters that  “what goes on in San Diego is up to the people of San Diego.”

The Republican Party of San Diego County put out its own statement that said Democrats failed to protect the women of San Diego who are in danger of being harassed and retaliated against for speaking up.

“As a woman, I am horrified not only at the tales coming out of the mayor’s office, but the admissions of leaders in the Democratic Party that they knew about Bob Filner’s behavior all along,” said county GOP Executive Director Francis Barraza. “This should not be a partisan issue.”

Barraza said Democrats have shown that they care more about preserving political power than standing up for women who have been victimized.

—City News Service contributed to this report.

Mark Pennington July 23, 2013 at 10:40 PM
You miss quoted the "Elevator" incident...there was never any consent given to Bob to put his arms around her...the paragraph was miss typed and says "with her consent"...get it right!
Michelle Mowad July 24, 2013 at 02:04 AM
Mark, thanks for catching our error. The article has been update to correctly quote the lawsuit.

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