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'Ongoing' talks could determine if San Diego Mayor Bob Filner stays on job

By Josh Levs. Casey Wian and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 12:56 AM EDT, Wed August 21, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Mediation talks involving embattled San Diego Mayor Bob Filner end for the day
  • NEW: "Mediation is a long process," the city attorney says
  • NEW: The Democratic National Committee will vote to urge Filner to resign
  • At least 16 women have accused Filner of inappropriate behavior

San Diego (CNN) -- The city of San Diego has changed the locks to the mayor's office, but will that be enough to keep out Bob Filner?

The embattled mayor has steadfastly resisted efforts to force him out of office in recent weeks, amid multiple allegations that paint him as a serial perpetrator of sexual harassment. There was even speculation that, after weeks in counseling, he may soon return to work -- even if all nine city council members, California's two U.S. senators and most of San Diego's citizens don't want him to.

Yet for his public posturing, what's happening behind the scenes could change all that.

For the past two days, Filner's camp has been engaged in mediation talks that, in theory, could end in his resignation.

Tuesday's session ended around 5:15 p.m. (8:15 p.m. ET), when those talks' participants filtered out of a downtown high-rise building where they'd been working.

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Businesswoman Dianne York told CNN that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner put his hands on her buttocks during this photo op after a meeting three months ago. York said there were witnesses. She said both her advisers and Filner's were in the room at the time. Click through the gallery of other women who have come forward in the case. Businesswoman Dianne York told CNN that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner put his hands on her buttocks during this photo op after a meeting three months ago. York said there were witnesses. She said both her advisers and Filner's were in the room at the time. Click through the gallery of other women who have come forward in the case.
San Diego mayor's accusers
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Flirty voice mail from San Diego mayor?

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith didn't provide details about what had been discussed, though he did suggest those discussions are not over.

"Mediation can be a long process," Goldsmith said, citing the mediator's request that they not speak at length. "We are in that process. It is ongoing."

If there is a settlement of the lawsuit brought by the mayor's former communications chief Irene McCormack Jackson that includes Filner agreeing to resign, the city council would have to approve it in closed session, a city hall source said Tuesday.

The public would be given at least 24 hours notice from the city attorney's office about such a city council session, even if it's closed, according to the city hall source.

That would be the normal process for such things

But nothing about the Filner scandal has been normal.

16 women accuse Filner of harassment

The mediation talks come on the heels of Filner's intensive two-week behavioral therapy, which was apparently aimed at ending his alleged backward ways of treating women in the workplace. The mayor began the voluntary program July 29, but his attorney, James Payne, said he was able to complete it August 10, and he was expected to continue with outpatient treatment.

Sixteen women have come forward, saying that Filner acted inappropriately -- with allegations such as one woman's claim he gave her "tush a pat" to another who said he "put me in what I guess now is the famous headlock" and tried "to kiss me on the lips and I'd have to squirm to get away."

It gets even more graphic.

Filner has not responded to multiple CNN requests for comment.

But last month -- after Jackson filed her lawsuit -- he publicly acknowledged having "failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me," and admitted that he was "embarrassed" by his actions.

"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.

But he said publicly what he did is not wrong enough to give up his job as representative of San Diego's 1.3 million people.

Filner insisted he will be vindicated by "a full presentation of the facts," and has remained resolute that he won't step down.

But he may be on his way out anyway.

While a source with direct knowledge of the closed-door talks declined to say what exactly was under discussion, CNN affiliate KGTV, citing anonymous sources, reported that the mediation was "designed to include a review of a potential resignation."

Though the city chief of staff changed the locks on Filner's office during his time away, it was to preserve evidence rather than to keep him out, the city attorney's office has said.

The office also said it could seek, as a "last resort," a restraining order -- saying Filner creates a hostile environment for women -- to prevent him from returning to work, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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Then there is the effort to gather signatures for a recall election, giving voters the options to kick Filner out of office if he won't go voluntarily.

Armed with clipboards and pens, volunteers hit the streets of San Diego over the weekend to begin collecting signatures for a recall effort. They need more than 101,000 signatures by September 26.

"We're going to be everywhere. We're going to be at sporting events. We're going to be at street fairs, arts shows -- you name it, we will be out there," Dave McCulloch, an organizer, told KFMB on Sunday.

Outrage overwhelming

The accusations against Filner trace to his 20 years in Congress and his time, since his election in 2012, as mayor.

They have spurred many -- including from fellow Democrats, such as California's two U.S. senators -- to urge the now 70-year-old to resign. The Democratic National Committee will vote on a resolution this week calling on Filner to do that as well, according to a draft copy obtained by CNN.

But that's not to say he doesn't have his supporters.

They include some members of some labor unions and Latinos, who claim Filner is being denied due process and that the recall effort is orchestrated by those who oppose his political agenda.

On Monday, some of them held a "We Will Not Be Silent" rally, also outside City Hall.

Still, the pro-Filner faction is clearly in the minority.

Roughly 81% of city residents want Filner to resign, according to a poll conducted by KGTV. Another CNN affiliate, KFMB, reported local radio hosts hired skywriters to spell out "Surrender Bob" over areas of the city last week.

Anti-Filner protesters speak

Those sentiments were voiced, loud and clear, in protests outside City Hall.

"There is no excuse for abuse, and there is no excuse for you to stay in power," attorney Gloria Allred, who has attended the mediation sessions, told the crowd.

His accusers include a singer at a campaign fundraiser and Jackson, who has called him unfit for office. Shannon, a 67-year-old represented by Allred, was the latest person to accuse Filner.

"Every day that I went to work, I had butterflies in my stomach because I did not know what was going to happen the next time the mayor came by my desk," she told reporters last week.

"I have three sons, four grandsons and two great grandsons. As our mayor, you should be -- but are not -- a role model for any of them," Shannon said.

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CNN's Casey Wian reported from San Diego; CNN's Josh Levs and Greg Botelho wrote this story from Atlanta. CNN's Dana Ford, Ed Payne, Diahann Reyes, Linda Hall, Kyung Lah, Matt Smith and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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