The mayor of San Diego announced he will undergo therapy after several women accused him of sexual harassment that included kissing and groping but resisted widespread calls for his resignation.
“Words alone are not enough,” Bob Filner, a former congressman, said at a nationally televised news conference. “I am responsible for my conduct, and I must take responsibility for my conduct so that such conduct does not ever happen again.”
It was the second time this week that a sex scandal has ensnared a high-profile US politician. In New York, mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner acknowledged that he had continued exchanging sexually explicit messages with at least three women even after similar behaviour forced his resignation from Congress in 2011. Mr Weiner has shrugged off calls to drop out of the race.
Mr Filner’s problems began two weeks ago when a former councilwoman and one-time supporter called on him to step down, saying she had credible evidence that he harassed women.
On Monday, his communications director from January to June, Irene McCormack Jackson, filed a lawsuit claiming that he 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.
Up to seven women have accused him of sexual harassment, including a retired Navy rear admiral and a dean at San Diego State University.
The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee called on Mr Filner to resign, plunging the nation’s eighth-largest city, which sits across from Tijuana, Mexico, into political turmoil.
Mr Filner, who is 70 and divorced, instead said he will receive twice-a-day briefings about city operations while taking part in what he described as “intensive therapy” beginning on August 5. He said more counselling would follow.
Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz called Mr Filner’s alleged behaviour “reprehensible and indefensible”.
Several people who have called on Mr Filner to resign said his plan for therapy was inadequate. The city will not be paying for his treatment.
“Two weeks of therapy may help Bob Filner with his personal problems, but it does not help to address the needs of San Diego,” said Laura Fink, a political consultant who alleges that Mr Filner patted her buttocks at a 2005 fundraiser when she was deputy campaign manager for the then-congressman.
Veronica “Ronne” Froman, the retired rear admiral, said Mr Filner once blocked a doorway after others left a meeting, ran his finger up her cheek and asked if she had a man in her life. Ms Froman said the incident occurred a couple of years ago at Mr Filner’s congressional office.
Sharon Bernie-Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, said the then-congressman told her at an event in 2010 that she was beautiful and he wanted to date her after his re-election. At another event last year during the mayoral campaign, she said Mr Filner “groped me on my backside inappropriately”.
“I was left there startled and fearful. In fact, I actually had someone walk me to my car that night,” she said.
Patti Roscoe, a businesswoman who knew Mr Filner before he was elected to Congress in 1992, said Mr Filner placed her in a “headlock” numerous times and tried to kiss her.
“I’d have to squirm to get away. And just as recently as a few months ago this happened. I turned and he just slobbered down my chin,” Ms Roscoe said.
Joyce Gattas, dean of San Diego State’s college of professional studies and fine arts, said she had a series of “interactions with Bob where he’s held me too tight, a kiss on the cheek which is inappropriate, hands on the knee that last too long”.