Another woman came forward today to report an unwanted advance by Mayor Bob Filner (D), telling KPBS News in an exclusive interview that the then-congressman patted her “posterior” while making a crude joke at a crowded fundraiser.
Laura Fink, who runs a political consulting firm, told KPBS that she was working as Filner’s deputy campaign manager when the incident occurred at a San Diego fundraising event in 2005.
Fink said she documented the incident in an email to Filner’s personal account; in it she demanded an apology.
A few days later, Filner mumbled to her, "I'm sorry," Fink said. But he added that she didn’t understand what had happened.
Though several people witnessed the incident, Fink—co-founder of Fink & Hernandez Consulting—said she did not go public about the encounter at the time because she “was trying to build a career in the political field … and Bob Filner has a reputation for swift retribution and for holding grudges.”
Fink, who provided KPBS with a copy of her email to Filner, said she worked for him from 2004 to 2006. She said she plans to report the harassment incident to the sheriff’s hotline established last week to handle such allegations.
Fink is the second woman to come forward in the past two days as the sexual-harassment scandal that has enveloped Filner and all of San Diego city government continues to expand.
On Monday, Filner’s former chief of communications, Irene McCormack Jackson, filed a lawsuit against the mayor and the city with the help of noted women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred.
McCormack Jackson’s allegations include being trapped in the “Filner Headlock,” in which she said he would grab her, try to kiss her, tell her he loved her and wanted to marry her and that they should “consummate their relationship.”
The mayor did not respond to a request from KPBS for comment. But in a written statement issued yesterday in response to the McCormack Jackson lawsuit, Filner said:
“I am saddened by the charges that were leveled against me today. Once due process is allowed to unfold, I am certain there will be a better understanding of this situation.
“I remain committed to the people of San Diego and the work that needs to be done. My dreams and plans for moving this City to new heights are continuing. I humbly ask that through this vicious storm of controversy, people take a moment and temper their rush to judgment.
“I do not believe these claims are valid. That is why due process is so important. I intend to defend myself vigorously and I know that justice will prevail.”
Fink said her troubling encounter with Filner happened when she was staffing him at a fundraising dinner. The Democratic congressman was making amends to the LGBT community, she said, for his “yes” vote years earlier on the highly controversial Defense of Marriage Act.
Her job was to escort Filner from table to table during the dinner. At one point, Fink said, an attendee singled her out for praise saying, "this girl has worked her ass off for you.”
At that, Fink said, Filner told her to turn around.
"As a staffer, I know it sounds silly to say that you just do it, but you just do it," Fink said.
Once she’d turned, Fink said, Filner “took his hands, patted my posterior, laughed, and said: 'No, it’s still there!'"
For a moment, Fink said, she was in shock, “and it certainly gave the people at the table pause.”
She then escorted Filner to the next table. Moments later, Fink said, one guest tried to gently upbraid the congressman, telling him Fink was not his wife and that he shouldn’t treat a woman like that. Filner brushed it off.
Fink said the incident left her “in disbelief that it could have happened.”
She needed a few days to process it. But Fink said, “the more I thought about it, the more upset I became.”
She emailed Filner demanding an apology; copied on the message was the congressman’s chief of staff, Tony Buckles. Buckles returned to that position with the mayor earlier this month after Filner’s former chief of staff resigned amid the harassment scandal.
Buckles soon called, Fink said, to ask what she wanted.
“An apology,” was her response.
But Filner’s half-hearted effort at that apology soon afterward left her sad and disappointed, Fink said; she added that Filner never responded to her email.
Fink, who also worked as political director for Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, since 2008, said she was impressed with the “courage it took” for McCormack Jackson to come forward this week.
Fink said she never wanted “to be defined by this incident.” But she said she’s motivated now to “make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.” Fink added that she has traded stories with several other women over the years who told her of similar unwanted advances by Filner.
A common thread among them, Fink said, is that “they were all folks beholden to him in some way.”
Fink said her fervent hope now is that Filner resigns as mayor. “He has already admitted,” she said, “that he’s only staying out of self interest.”