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Second woman accuses San Diego mayor of sexual harassment

By Melissa Gray, CNN
updated 3:44 AM EDT, Wed July 24, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Laura Fink says incident happened while she was a campaign staffer in 2005
  • She says then-congressman Bob Filner patted her "posterior"
  • Filner's former spokeswoman is suing him for sexual harassment
  • He has been battling such allegations for several weeks

(CNN) -- A former campaign staffer for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner became the second woman to publicly accuse him of sexual harassment, saying Tuesday that the then-congressman patted her "posterior" while at a fundraising event.

Laura Fink, who now runs a political consulting firm, told KPBS-TV that it happened in 2005 when she was working as Filner's deputy campaign manager.

Fink said she didn't go public with the incident at the time because she was trying to build her political career. But she said she now feels emboldened to tell her story after Filner's former spokeswoman, Irene McCormack Jackson, sued him for sexual harassment Monday.

Jackson said Filner subjected her and other women to "crude and disgusting" comments and inappropriate touching. She said she resigned as Filner's communications director in June after deciding the mayor would not change his behavior.

San Diego mayor refuses to step down

"I had to work and do my job in an atmosphere where women were viewed by Mayor Filner as sexual objects or stupid idiots," Jackson said. She said Filner asked her to work without underwear and made repeated sexual advances toward her.

"He is not fit to be mayor of our great city. He is not fit to hold any public office. A man who lacks character makes a mockery of his ideas," she said.

Fink told KPBS on Tuesday that the incident happened as she was escorting Filner from table to table at a fundraising dinner. At one point, she said, someone at the event told Filner that Fink had "worked her ass off" for him.

"He turned to me and he said, 'Turn around,' " Fink said Tuesday. "And as a staffer, I know it sounds silly to just do it, but you just do it. And so I turned around and he proceeded to take his hand and pat me on my posterior and laugh and say, 'No, it's still there.' "

Fink gave the station a copy of an e-mail she sent to Filner in which she asked for an apology. A few days later, KPBS reported, Filner mumbled "I'm sorry" but told her she didn't understand what happened.

Filner has been battling allegations of sexual harassment for several weeks, but none of the women leveling those claims came forward before Jackson filed her suit in state court. Her lawyer, Gloria Allred, called on Filner to resign, telling reporters, "Apologies alone will not take care of this injustice."

In a statement issued Monday evening, Filner said he was "saddened" by the accusations, but "I remain committed to the people of San Diego and the work that needs to be done."

"Once due process is allowed to unfold, I am certain there will be a better understanding of this situation," he said, adding, "I humbly ask that through this vicious storm of controversy, people take a moment and temper their rush to judgment."

Filner said last week that he believes he will be vindicated by "a full presentation of the facts." But he has also acknowledged, "I need help," and added, "I'm clearly doing something wrong."

"I am embarrassed to admit that I have failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me, and that at times I have intimidated them," Filner said in a statement earlier this month. "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."

The 70-year-old Filner served five terms in Congress before being elected mayor in 2012. He says he will not resign.

Jackson said she decided to resign after Filner's deputy chief of staff resigned in June. Filner "refused to listen to someone he had known for 35 years, and who told him explicitly, during a senior staff meeting, that his behavior with women was terrible and possibly illegal.

Filner "laughed it off," she said. She said Filner challenged her to provide one example of improper behavior; when she brought up his comments about wearing underwear, "he had no comeback," she said.

CNN's Matt Smith contributed to this report.

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