SAN DIEGO — Mayor Bob Filner, besieged by sexual harassment allegations, sat down to the negotiating table with a key bargaining chip: His refusal to resign.
Now that a tentative deal aimed at ending one of San Diego’s darkest periods of political turmoil has been reached, many wonder whether the tenacious, former congressman has finally agreed to step down, and if so, in exchange for what.
The City Council is set to rule Friday on the proposed agreement between the mayor and city negotiators that emerged after three days of settlement talks in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Filner’s former aide. Irene McCormack Jackson was the first of at least 17 women to publicly accuse the mayor of inappropriate behavior.
Details have not been disclosed of the deal, but a person with knowledge of the negotiations said the main sticking points involved granting Filner indemnity and covering his legal fees. The person was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
That could prove tricky for politicians who have promised to oust Filner and at the same time not use taxpayer dollars to defend the 70-year-old mayor accused of groping and forcibly kissing women.
San Diego is not new to political scandals — Mayor Dick Murphy was forced to resign in 2005 over a financial crisis — but even so, Democratic consultant Chris Crotty said there is no easy out to the latest crisis, considered to be one of its worst.
The City Council is in a no-win situation if Filner is demanding coverage of his legal fees in exchange for resigning, Crotty said. And if Filner doesn’t get what he wants, he could refuse to leave office, and the city’s political paralysis could continue for months or longer as a recall effort inches forward.
“They’re really damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” Crotty said.
If voters were to decide, he said: “I bet most would choose to hold their nose, say OK, and pay the money to get him out.”
And it may be a moot point anyway, he said: Under California law the city must defend Filner even if the City Council ends up saying it won’t.
What’s more, after all the dust has settled, the city also could still be facing the lawsuit.
McCormack’s attorney, Gloria Allred, said she was not party to the tentative agreement being considered by the Council in closed-door session Friday and she did not know its details.
But she said she would not support paying the mayor’s legal fees as part of the settlement, indicating her legal action could continue.
“The mayor’s resignation should not be bought at the expense of his victims,” she said. “It would be morally wrong and hypocritical for the city to align itself with the mayor by helping him pay his legal fees.”
All nine members of the City Council, along with a laundry list of fellow Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have called on Filner to quit.
Skywriters hired by opponents etched across the port city’s sunny skies before talks began: “Surrender Bob.”
Republican Councilman Mark Kersey said Thursday: “Without his resignation being part of it, it’s a nonstarter.”
For his part, Filner has no reason to resign unless he secures an agreement that will shed his financial exposure.
The city’s first Democratic mayor in two decades has acknowledged disrespecting and intimidating women but has denied any sexual harassment.
If he refuses to leave, organizers of a recall effort hope to get him out of office. But it’s a slow, uncertain process that requires getting more than 100,000 valid signatures from voters.
They say so far they have about 10 percent.
The mayor of the nation’s eighth-largest city was back to work at City Hall on Thursday, his lawyers said, after all but vanishing over the past three weeks while undergoing therapy for his behavior.
His attorneys declined to comment on the proposed deal “due to the confidential nature of mediation and settlement discussions.”
Meanwhile, women have continued coming forward with accusations against Filner, who took office in December. The latest was a businesswoman who said he touched her buttocks while posing with her for a photo.
McCormack was the first woman to go public with allegations against Filner. She claimed the mayor asked her to work without panties, demanded kisses, told her he wanted to see her naked and dragged her in a headlock while whispering in her ear.
Should Filner resign, City Council President Todd Gloria would become acting mayor until a special election is held.