THE Mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner, has agreed to resign after sexual harassment allegations from 17 different women.
Mr Filner, a Democrat who served 20 years in Congress before becoming mayor of the nation’s eighth-largest city, steps down after just nine months.
And the California attorney general has opened a criminal investigation into Mr Filner, it emerged this morning.
Mr Filner was both regretful and defiant during a City Council meeting yesterday as he explained the “the toughest decision of my life”.
He apologised to his accusers but insisted he was innocent of sexual harassment and said he was the victim of a “lynch mob”.
The council voted 7-0 on a deal that ended a political stalemate after more than a dozen women publicly identified themselves as targets of unwanted advances, including touching, forcible kisses and lurid comments.
“The city should not have to go through this, and my own personal failures were responsible and I apologise to the city,” Mr Filner said after the vote.
The 70-year-old had previously insisted he still could be an effective mayor and underwent two weeks of behavioural therapy before returning to work this week.
But his support diminished as more women - one of them a great-grandmother and another a retired Navy admiral - came forward.
They told stories of Mr Filner touching, forcibly kissing, making lewd comments and even placing them in headlocks. Some of his closest political allies and all nine members of the council called on him to quit.
Yesterday, just before the Council vote, the Democratic National Committee took the extraordinary step of passing a resolution demanding he leave.
Dozens of people spoke for and against the mayor before the council convened behind closed doors to discuss confidential terms negotiated by Mr Filner and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.
“Without the mayor’s resignation, our city will continue to be paralysed by this scandal, progress will be arrested and our focus will continue to be monopolised by this dark chapter in our history,” said Laura Fink.
The political consultant has accused Mr Filner of patting her buttocks in 2005 when she was deputy campaign manager to the then-congressman.
Rachel Laing, a spokeswoman for an effort to recall the mayor, said petition gatherers have collected 20,000 signatures in five days to qualify for the ballot but that she would accept a deal for the mayor to resign.
“Every day he’s in office is a day that the city remains in paralysis and that his victims suffer,” she told the council.
Still, many who came to the special meeting supported the embattled mayor, hailing the liberal Democrat’s work on behalf of civil rights and struggling minority groups.
Todd Gloria, the Democrat City Council president, becomes acting mayor until a special election is held within 90 days.
Mr Filner, who began his political career on the San Diego school board and later served on the City Council, is twice divorced.
California attorney general spokesman Nicholas Pacilio confirmed that a criminal investigation is underway but declined to elaborate.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is fielding complaints of sexual misconduct by the mayor and delivering its findings to the attorney general’s office.