They precipitated one of the biggest political scandals in San Diego’s modern history when they accused Bob Filner of sexual misconduct this summer.
Since then, San Diegans watched their mayor apologize, heard from scores of women he allegedly harassed, and finally saw Filner resign in a defiant speech just one month ago.
Former Councilwoman Donna Frye and attorneys Cory Briggs and Marco Gonzalez spoke with KPBS Investigative Reporter Amita Sharma recently about what led up to their decision to expose one of their own by making public the harassment allegations against Filner.
Frye said stories emerged about Filner harassing women soon after she went to work for him late last year. Then, one woman confided in Frye. But Frye said she didn’t report the accusation to the city’s equivalent of a human resources department.
“And the reason I didn’t is I did not trust the process and the person that shared the information with me did not want to do anything and did not want me to do anything,” Frye said.
Briggs described how an unpleasant Father’s Day conversation with Filner sealed his view that the mayor’s governance was a problem.
“He essentially confirmed that he has been abusing his power and holding up development projects illegally because he’s trying to further his agenda,” Briggs said.
It was Marco Gonzalez, acting as former city hall communications director Irene McCormack Jackson’s attorney, who bluntly laid out the damning allegations against Filner during a private meeting with him. Gonzalez said he asked Filner to seek therapy and apologize to his staff for the abusive behavior.
“He indicated after the conclusion of that meeting, after really trying to explain away his behavior a number of times, that he would indeed take these steps to rectify his behavior,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez sent a follow-up email to Filner outlining the steps the mayor had promised to take to correct the alleged transgressions. But Gonzalez never heard back.
The trio said they had hoped to keep private their letters to Filner asking him to resign. But when they read a tweet that KPBS and inewsource were investigating harassment allegations against the mayor, they decided to go public.
“A driving issue for us is we’re Democrats who now have knowledge our highest leader in the city is violating community standards,” Gonzalez said. “What does it mean if the Republicans find this out? And we knew that they were trying to find out dirt on Bob. “
Frye — a stout Democrat — said the day she called on Filner to resign at a press conference was one of the worst experiences of her life.
“I had such great hope and faith in Bob Filner,” she said.
Soon after the presser, the three were inundated with calls from women sharing their alleged lurid experiences with Filner.
Briggs said he was emotional for “about two minutes” when Filner delivered his farewell speech to the city council. But he said he quickly became angry when Filner turned defiant.
Frye said she understands to a point the bad blood the scandal has generated within the Democratic Party. Some claim the harassment allegations were the product of an orchestrated effort to oust Filner from office because of his willingness to challenge the city’s powerful developers and other businesses.
“I understand their disappointment, their frustration,” Frye said. “I’m not particularly sympathetic to the conspiracy theorists. What we found in Bob Filner was a person who was not fit to lead this city.”