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Pressure grows on San Diego mayor over harassment accusations

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, who has resisted calls to resign over allegations he groped and made suggestive comments toward women, came under increasing pressure this week as fellow Democrats urged him to quit and as talk emerged of a recall campaign.

Filner drew fire as leader of California's second-largest city last week after a former city councilwoman and two lawyers held a news conference to say at least one woman has accused the mayor of improper behavior.

A 70-year-old Democrat in a city that historically leans conservative, Filner later admitted to behaving inappropriately toward female staff members but indicated he would not step aside, saying he wanted to prove he was "capable of change."

In recent days, prominent local Democrats have publicly urged him to quit. A Republican foe, describing Filner as "ineffective," said on Friday he would attempt a recall but that the sexual harassment allegations would not be the main focus.

"I don't want to detract from what we're doing, all we're trying to do is clean house and this is one of many charges leveled against him," said Michael Pallamary, 59, who in 1991 led a successful recall effort against a San Diego city councilwoman.

Filner had become a polarizing figure in San Diego before the current controversy. He has clashed with the city attorney over policies for medical marijuana and with the hotel industry over the city's share of tourism advertising.

To force a recall election, Pallamary's group will need to collect 101,000 signatures in 39 days after publishing a notice of its intent to recall Filner, a clock that has not yet started.

The calls for Filner's resignation began last week when former San Diego Democratic city councilwoman Donna Frye and two attorneys announced that at least one woman, whom they did not name, had provided them details of his alleged inappropriate behavior.

UNWELCOME ADVANCES ALLEGED

On Monday, the trio announced more graphic details. Frye said Filner made unwelcome advances against two constituents and "jammed his tongue down" the throat of one of them. Lawyer Marco Gonzalez said a client who worked for Filner said he groped her and suggested she not wear panties.

Among local Democrats who publicly called this week for Filner to resign are U.S. Representatives Susan Davis and Scott Peters. Others including San Diego City Council president Todd Gloria have also asked for him to step aside.

"He says he'll be dragged out kicking and screaming, but I think I've been in the minority in terms of pundits in saying that a resignation will come relatively soon," said political analyst John Dadian, who has worked with local Republican officials.

So far, no women have stepped forward to publicly accuse Filner. A Filner representative did not respond to calls or emails seeking an interview.

"I do not believe I am guilty of sexual harassment, and I believe a full presentation of the facts will vindicate me," he said in a statement on Monday. The same day, the mayor told television station KUSI, "I'm a hugger, with both men and women."

With no one going public to say he or she was personally harassed by Filner, some have questioned the allegations. On Thursday, about 50 people including many activists from poor neighborhoods rallied in his support outside a city administration building.

"If he is guilty, I'll be out here to stand with the women because I am a woman," said rally participant Kathleen Harmon, 83. "But I don't know that the allegations are true ... The mayor deserves due process."

University of California, San Diego, political science professor Steven Erie said Filner might not be so easily ousted and was a tough politician, citing time he spent in a Mississippi jail in the 1960s as a civil rights activist.

"I don't think he's going to resign, and the only thing that's going to force him from office is a felony conviction or a recall before his term ends," Erie said.

(Additional reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Ken Wills)

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