SAN DIEGO — According to the age-old saying, time heals all. But for Mayor Bob Filner, his troubles have only continued to mount while he was away in therapy.
Even the local Hooters restaurants have posted signs saying he is not welcome there.
Filner is expected to appear at City Hall on Monday, when he has said he will return to work after undergoing an intensive two-week therapy program.
More than a dozen women, including a university dean and a retired Navy rear admiral, have gone public with accusations. Some contend he cornered them, groping and slobbering them with kisses.
Filner’s former communications director, 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.
The latest accuser spoke Thursday – a 67-year-old volunteer city worker who assists senior citizens.
Filner, a Democrat, returns to louder calls for his resignation, and an even stronger fight to boot him out if he does not step down. He’s now confronting his biggest challenges yet, some say.
A recall campaign started its petition drive a day before his return. Meanwhile, more women went public during his absence with lurid claims. He also returns to investigations over his handling of city finances, including questions over a trip to Paris.
The feisty liberal — who served 10 terms in Congress — has long had a reputation for berating employees and has been dogged by rumors of making sexual advances on women, but critics say it’s uncertain how he can survive the onslaught of accusations that have come out every few days over the past month and a half.
“He is a ferocious campaigner, but this will be most difficult campaign of his life,” said Steve Erie, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego. “This is a monumental hill that he has to surmount. The allegations are like Chinese water torture, the way they keep coming out. It’s like drip, drip, drip. At this point, I’m waiting for first woman who has been around Bob to say ‘he didn’t manhandle me.’”
The 70-year-old has become a punch line for comedians and regularly mocked on national programs such as “The Daily Show.” A cable television affiliate of the local newspaper, U-T San Diego, recently produced its own musical parody that shows a man’s body with Filner’s face superimposed on it hip-thrusting and chasing women in short skirts and high heels.
The video by U-T TV was criticized for making light of a serious situation.
Before going into therapy, Filner asked voters to be patient while he gets help.
“Before I even think of asking for forgiveness, I must demonstrate that my behavior has changed. And that will only happen over time and only if such incidents never, ever happen again,” Filner said.
He vowed when he returned that his “focus will be on making sure that I am doing right by the city in terms of being the best mayor I can be, and the best person I must be.”
His lawyers and his office did not respond to interview requests.
Filner has agreed not to meet with women alone on city business and has delegated broad authority to a new interim chief operating officer, Walt Ekard, a highly regarded former county administrator.
Since the allegations surfaced, the city’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years went from near-daily appearances around town to vanishing from public view. Last month, he was caught on video fleeing from camera crews and reporters to a waiting driver who accelerated through a red light.
It’s uncertain now whether he will keep running from the cameras or face them.