Power Players Meet to Pick Recall Candidate

Several of the region's top Democratic elected officials held a meeting Sunday evening in the Golden Hill home of Congressman Juan Vargas to discuss the situation with embattled Mayor Bob Filner, and to pick a candidate should a recall effort begin.  

The meeting was called at the behest of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and was held for elected officials only, two attendees of the meeting confirmed.

"The idea was, basically, if there is going to be a recall, we should get together and get behind one person. We should be organized and make sure we present a unified front," according to someone who had firsthand knowledge of the meeting but could not be named.

Lurid sexual harassment accusations have plagued Filner since his former allies Donna Frye and attorney Marco Gonzalez, a sibling of Assemblywoman Gonzalez, and Cory Briggs called on the mayor to resign.

Filner has publicly apologized for disrespecting women and at times intimidating them. In recent interviews and a newspaper op-ed, he has described himself as "a hugger" and said that he needs to be more self-aware of his behavior.

If a recall effort were to gain steam, and an eventual vote brought before the public, a candidate with the single most votes wins the office under a recall voting system. So, a crowded field of Democratic candidates could hurt the political party's chances of hanging on to the mayor's office.

Names of those discussed at the Sunday night meeting as possible replacements for Filner in a recall effort included former mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher, San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria, state Assemblymember Toni Atkins and former state Senator Chris Kehoe.

Labor leader Tom Lemmon with the San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council said he was unaware of the meeting, but was not pleased by it.

"It's way too premature for that," he said. "As people who represent workers, we believe in due process." 

Congressman Scott Peters, State Senator Marty Block, San Diego Councilman David Alvarez, and Chula Vista City Councilwoman Mary Salas all attended the meeting, but all declined to discuss details or say whether there was a consensus on who to rally support behind. Gonzalez did not return phone calls about the meeting, and a spokesman said she had no comment. 

The day after the meeting, Block and Peters issued statements calling on Filner to resign.

"“The grave and horrific allegations against Mayor Bob Filner are shocking and disgusting, and I extend my deep sympathies and concern to any victims. If these charges are true, Mayor Filner should resign immediately,” a statement from Block's office stated.

Peters' statement, issued later in the day Monday, read in part:

"Last Friday afternoon, I called Mayor Filner to talk to him directly about the very serious accusations being made against him. I left him a voice mail asking him to step down for the good of the city, and offering to help him and his staff accomplish an orderly transition. He has not yet returned my call."

Vargas' statement didn't come until early Wednesday, and he called for a full investigation into the accusations: 

"The accusations against Mayor Filner are very serious. It is of the utmost importance that these accusations receive an impartial, thorough, and transparent investigation. It is my sincerest hope that this matter is addressed in a dignified manner and that all San Diegans display the utmost respect for all those involved. Sexual harassment is an especially cowardly offense and my prayers go out to all the courageous survivors of this senseless act."

Accusations against Filner came to a boiling point this past Monday at a heated press conference held by Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs, who presented detailed accounts of unidentified women claiming to have been sexually harassed and groped by Filner.

Meantime, the San Diego County Democratic Party has called a special meeting Thursday night to discuss the allegations against Filner. Filner did not return requests for comment on this story.

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