SAN DIEGO - Around 75 supporters of embattled San Diego Mayor Bob Filner rallied outside City Hall Monday, a day after a signature-gathering campaign to qualify a recall vote got underway.
Organizer and immigrant rights activist Enrique Morones said Filner backers would no longer stay silent.
"These joint community members of color, veterans, environmentalists, educators, women's rights, gays, civil rights, labor, human rights, unions, neighborhoods, immigration and many more -- we stand united in stopping the public mockery of our judicial system," Morones said. "Due process for Mayor Filner and due process for the accusers."
Filner has been publicly accused of sexual harassment by 17 women, the latest a real estate agent named Caryl Iseman who said he grabbed her breast at a fundraiser 25 years ago, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News reported.
Kathleen Harmon, a volunteer for the Filner mayoral campaign who said she has marched with him many times, said he always exhibited "good" behavior at those times, and wondered why the accusations were coming out now.
"Is it because he is standing up for everybody, not a special interest?" Harmon asked. "Is it because he went into City Hall to give poor people, homeless, sick people a chance?"
Suzie Ditmars, of the Committee on the Status of Women, said she was "appalled" at the attacks on Filner and what she characterized as "pure vindictiveness" on the part of the mayor's opponents.
Ramon Espinal, a teacher from City Heights held a sign that read, "I'm standing with Bob."
He told 10News, "I'm standing with Bob because I feel that there is a political lynching going on in the city and Bob has due process, just like all the women that are accusing Bob of sexual harassment."
"This charade, this fiasco that you're covering has nothing to do with sexual harassment," said former naval aviator Ted Muga.
Muga claims that from the day Filner was elected the "powerful" people who have run San Diego for 100 years "pulled all these gals together to make all these accusations public."
When asked whether the women made up their stories, Muga replied, "I have no idea. They are accusers. That's where due process comes in."
Several Bob Filner organizers were seen in the crowd watching the protest, as were City Council staffers.
There were also hecklers. One man who held two anti-Filner signs shouted, "He molests women, and you allow it."
A supporter shouted back, "I don't know who you are to say that. What evidence do you have?"
When 10News asked supporters what they think of the mayor possibly negotiating a resignation, they said they hope he does not do it.
"Stand your ground," said Cathy Fisher. "Do the job we elected you to do as mayor."
Another woman who attended the rally held a sign that read "We Forgive."
An exact count of attendees at the "Standing with Mayor Filner and Due Process" rally was difficult because some of his supporters, opponents and media mingled together.
The event was organized via the Facebook page "San Diegans for Mayor Bob Filner." The page was created in February -- nearly five months before Filner was accused of sexual harassment -- and had 349 "likes" as of early Monday afternoon.
Supporters argue that the 70-year-old mayor is being denied his due process and that the recall campaign against him is being orchestrated by opponents of the former congressman's political agenda, not his alleged misdeeds.
They approached media microphones singing "We Shall Overcome," and ended it by chanting "due process."
Filner opponents also have created a Facebook page. "Recall Bob Filner," which had 10,190 "likes" as of early Monday afternoon, was launched in late June -- after he was accused of shaking down developers for donations but before he was accused of sexual harassment.
Organizers of the recall campaign were allowed to circulate petitions for the first time on Sunday. They need to turn in nearly 102,000 valid signatures by Sept. 26 to get the recall bid onto the ballot.
Volunteers seeking signatures Sunday targeted civic events with big crowds, including America's Finest City Half Marathon at Balboa Park. They capped off the day with a "Freedom From Filner" rally in front of City Hall, with more than 300 supporters attending.
Filner had not shown up for work at the City Administration Building as of Monday afternoon. Multiple media outlets were reporting that negotiations were underway at the U.S. Attorney's Office regarding his future.
Filner's last public appearances were in the final week of July, when he attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a trolley construction project and held a news conference to announce that he would be seeking behavioral therapy.
After apologizing for what he called a failure to respect women and for his "intimidating conduct," Filner voluntarily checked himself into a two-week inpatient behavioral therapy program.
The program ended Aug. 10, according to attorney James Payne, who said his client was continuing treatment on an outpatient basis. The Irvine-based lawyer said Filner did not return to work last week because he took a "personal week."
Filner, who has apologized for his conduct with women but contends his actions don't rise to the level of sexual harassment, also faces investigations into alleged misuse of city-issued credit cards and shakedowns of developers.
The entire City Council and numerous other civic and business leaders have called for Filner to resign, including several prominent fellow Democrats.