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by Mark Sauer and Amita Sharma | KPBS
Four prominent San Diego women came forth today accusing Mayor Bob Filner of unwanted sexual advances. They related specific incidents in an exclusive interview with KPBS News.
The latest accusers —a retired Navy rear-admiral, a dean at San Diego State University, the head of the Port Tenants Association and a businesswoman — all said they were on the receiving end of unwanted advances, inappropriate touching and comments by Filner.
And all four said they believe he is unfit for office and should resign immediately.
The mayor’s office this afternoon did not respond to a request for comment on these latest allegations.
The new accusations fit a familiar pattern.
Sharon Bernie–Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, said then-Congressman Filner approached her at a National City event in 2010, told her she was beautiful and that he “wanted to date me” after his re-election.
She also told of an event at the Town & Country Convention Center in 2012, when Filner was running for mayor of San Diego.
“He came up to me after the event was over. I was talking with friends and he gave me a hug. And then he touched me, actually groped me on my backside inappropriately,” Bernie-Cloward said. “I was left there startled and fearful. In fact, I actually had someone walk me to my car that night.”
Patti Roscoe, a prominent businesswoman in San Diego’s tourism and hospitality industry, said she’s known Filner since his days on the City Council decades ago.
“And on numerous occasions, he put in me what I guess now is the famous headlock; and I felt fearful, even as well as I knew him, because it was an invasion into my space,” Roscoe said. “And he would come in and try to kiss me on the lips and 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.
“And I was so violated and so offended. It’s just such a terrible invasion.”
Another woman in today’s interview with KPBS was Veronica “Ronne” Froman, who held the unofficial title of “Navy Mayor of San Diego” before retiring as a rear admiral in 2001.
Froman, who was chief operating officer of the city of San Diego during Mayor Jerry Sanders’ administration, said that at a meeting “a couple years ago (at) Filner’s congressional office,” he blocked the doorway after everyone had left.
“He stopped me and he got very close to me. And he ran his finger up my cheek like this and he whispered to me, ‘Do you have a man in your life?’” Froman said. “I jumped back. I was very, very startled. And I said, ‘Yes, I have a man in my life.’
“And he said, ‘who?’ And I said, ‘Linden Blue.’ He says, ‘Oh, of the Blues Brothers?’ And he says, ‘Maybe we can get together some time and have lunch and he can support me for mayor.’
“I was really rattled, I got in the car with the two guys I was working with and I told them never to leave me alone in a room with Bob Filner again.”
Joyce Gattas is dean of the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts at SDSU.
She described to KPBS 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.”
Gattas, who helped craft the university’s sexual-harassment policy, said she has often seen Filner make “sexual comments to others. And I’ve seen the interactions with others when they cringe. I’ve experienced his sexual innuendos with me at various events that again, have left me in that strange feeling of: This is inappropriate, this is unwanted and this shouldn’t be happening.”
The four women coming forth today follow three others who went public earlier this week.
On Monday, Filner’s former communications chief, Irene McCormack Jackson, announced she had filed a sexual harassment lawsuit.
With notable women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred by her side, McCormack Jackson accused Filner of groping and kissing her in her office at City Hall, and suggesting she come to work without her underwear on.
Laura Fink on Tuesday told KPBS that Filner “grabbed my posterior” in front of surprised diners at a fundraising event in 2005 when Fink was a worker on Filner’s congressional campaign staff.
On Wednesday, school psychologist Morgan Rose told KPBS she met with Filner in 2009 at a restaurant across from his congressional office to discuss her initiative regarding the well-being of America’s children.
Rose said he told her “your eyes have bewitched me,” squeezed next to her in a booth and tried to kiss her four times.
Rose said she has called a hotline set up by the Sheriff’s Department to take complaints against the mayor. The department has been designated as the lead law enforcement agency for investigating the claims.
Filner, who has scarcely been seen in public since the scandal broke nearly three weeks ago, made an unscheduled appearance at a meeting this morning, according to U-T San Diego.
The newspaper reports the mayor spoke briefly with a reporter about the scandal, saying:
“I’d like the city to take a deep breath. There are allegations and allegations of allegations. Let us get this into a process where everybody, including myself, has a way to make a fair statement, to talk about their view of things and there’s an impartial investigation and discovery.”
He also told the U-T, “let the legal process work itself out. We’ll all do that in a fair-minded way, that everybody has their day in court.”
Later this morning, Filner appeared briefly at an event celebrating an upgrade of the San Diego Trolley Blue Line. Reporters from local and national news stations swarmed him, shouting “are the sexual harassment allegations true?” and “will you resign?”
“There’s a legal process by which all of this will be decided,” Filner responded after being chased for several minutes. “There will be no other statements regarding … except for the legal process.”
He started his remarks at the ceremony with a joke.
“I see you’ve found a wonderful way to attract media attention for our efforts on the trolley,” he said.
Meanwhile, the San Diego County Democratic Party plans a public meeting at 6:30 tonight at party headquarters, 8340 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
The party will consider its stance on Filner for a second time. The group debated for more than three hours last Thursday over whether to call on the mayor to resign, but ended up with a split vote, 24-24.
After that meeting, committee chair Francine Busby told reporters “if the mayor has done this and it is proven to be true, we will ask for his immediate resignation.”