San Diego mayor apologizes amid harassment claims

FILE - This Nov. 7, 2012 file photo shows San Diego Mayor Bob Filner smiling during a news conference at a park in San Diego. A prominent onetime supporter of Mayor Filner is calling for him to resign after less than a year in office amid allegations that he sexually harassed women. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The mayor of San Diego apologized for his behavior Thursday after a prominent former supporter accused him of sexually harassing women and urged him to resign as leader of the nation's eighth-largest city.

Mayor Bob Filner said he failed to respect women who work for him and he intimidated them at times.

Without detailing his actions, Filner, 70, called his behavior inappropriate and wrong and said he "diminished" the office. He said he needed help and pleaded with voters for patience.

"If my behavior doesn't change, I cannot succeed in leading our city," said Filner, who in November was elected the city's first Democratic mayor in 20 years. "You have every right to be disappointed in me. I only ask that you give me an opportunity to prove I am capable of change, so that the vision I have for our city's future can be realized."

Donna Frye, a former councilwoman and once a key supporter of Filner, choked up earlier in the day as she called for Filner to step down, calling it one of the most difficult decisions she has made. She said the allegations were based on firsthand accounts but refused to divulge specifics such as the nature of the abuse or whether it occurred while Filner was mayor.

Frye, who is embraced by Filner's liberal base, said more than one woman told her about being harassed, but she didn't elaborate.

"I believe what they have told me, and they need to know that they are not alone," she said at a news conference. "There are people who support and care about them."

Marco Gonzalez, an environmental attorney who joined Frye in calling for the mayor's resignation, said the former councilwoman wouldn't comment on Filner's apology until Friday.

Filner, who is divorced, said he has started working with professionals to change his behavior and that he and his staff will participate in training regarding sexual harassment. He said he will personally apologize to current and former employees over the next few days, including men and women.

"It's a good thing that behavior that would have been tolerated in the past is being called out in this generation for what it is: inappropriate and wrong," he said.

The apology came as Filner's allies clamored for an explanation.

"When a friend like Donna Frye is compelled to call for my resignation, I'm clearly doing something wrong," the mayor said.

The scandal erupted during a bad stretch for Filner, who was elected to a four-year term after 20 years in Congress. On Monday, his fiance, Bronwyn Ingram, announced in an email to her team of volunteers that she was breaking their engagement.

"I am extremely disappointed and heartbroken, both for what Team First Lady could have accomplished, and for me, personally; however, this is the only action I can take given the devolvement of our personal relationship," Ingram wrote.

Two top Filner aides recently quit. Allen Jones, his deputy chief of staff, resigned at a staff meeting over what Filner called disagreements about how he was running the office. When Filner asked if anyone else in the room wanted out, Irene McCormack, his communications director, came forward.

Frye served as Filner's director of open government for several months until resigning for a position at Californians Aware, a group that advocates for open government.

Frye lost a write-in bid for mayor in 2004 when several thousand voters who wrote her name on the ballot failed to darken the adjoining ovals. If those ballots were counted, she would have unseated Republican Dick Murphy, who later resigned amid a scandal over city finances.

Frye said Thursday she wouldn't run if Filner resigned.