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San Diego County supervisor to resign after assault lawsuit

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March 31, 2023
By The Associated Press


Photo: Andrey Popov/Adobe Stock
By Elliot Spagat

A powerful San Diego County supervisor said he will resign amid accusations that he sexually assaulted a government employee, completing a swift and shocking fall for a decorated Marine combat veteran whose star rose with his Democratic Party’s ascendancy in the nation’s eighth-largest city.

Nathan Fletcher, who defected from the Republican Party in 2012, was elected to a second term on the county board of supervisors with 65% of the vote in November, two years after Democrats won a board majority that eluded their grasp for decades.

Fletcher, 46, was the face of the San Diego region’s muscular response to COVID-19 at daily news conferences. He became half of San Diego’s most powerful political couple after his 2017 marriage to Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a well-known liberal Democratic state assemblywoman who became a top California labor leader last year.

Fletcher’s progressive positions and telegenic presence made him a solid favorite to succeed another prominent California politician, Toni Atkins, in the state Senate. But he announced late Sunday that he was dropping his bid after less than two months to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse.

Days later, Fletcher resigned as chair of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System after a government staffer alleged sexual harassment and assault in a lawsuit that included screenshots of lurid messages from Fletcher.

‘Immense and unbearable’ pressure

Hours after that, Fletcher said he would resign from the county board of supervisors, calling the pressure on his family over the last week “immense and unbearable.”

“A combination of my personal mistakes plus false accusations has created a burden that my family shouldn’t have to bear,” he said. He will leave office May 15.

Fletcher’s fall jolted the city a week after officials made a critical turn in a saga that has captivated the city and threatened other top politicians.

A 2017 lease-to-own deal for employees to occupy a 19-story downtown office building turned disastrous after asbestos and other deficiencies were discovered and rendered the space uninhabitable. Jason Hughes, an unpaid adviser to the city on the deal, pleaded guilty last week to a misdemeanor and agreed to repay $9.4 million that he collected in a dual role as adviser to the building’s seller, Cisterra LLC.

The deal was bungled under Mayor Kevin Faulconer, one of California’s most promising Republican leaders until a resounding defeat in a failed 2020 recall effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat.

Sexual harassment in politics

Brian Adams, a political science professor at San Diego State University, likened Fletcher to other fallen leaders, including Andrew Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer, both former governors of New York, and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards.

“They were all seen having promising futures collapse over sexual harassment claims,” said Adams.

Fletcher’s name entered conversations about who San Diego might elect to be mayor or a member of Congress, Adams said. His troubles may open the way for new faces if Todd Gloria, the Democratic mayor, faces questions over how he handled fallout from the real estate debacle.

San Diego’s political drama doesn’t appear to have gripped residents like earlier scandal, including the resignation in 2013 of Bob Filner, the first Democratic mayor in 20 years, after weeks of near-daily allegations of harassing women, including city employees.

A Republican mayor, Dick Murphy, resigned in 2004 after a pension crisis made San Diego a poster child for financial mismanagement.

Exchanging messages

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Diego Superior Court, the government staffer says she began exchanging messages with Fletcher in 2021 when he started visiting her social media accounts. He once wrote, “Home alone — no wife and kids.” He urged her to delete his texts and be discreet.

The staffer says Fletcher kissed her in the stairway of a hotel where he was staying in May 2022. Weeks later, he allegedly texted her during a meeting that he had for five minutes and asked her to go to an adjoining conference room, where he kissed and grabbed her.

The worker was fired Feb. 6 after she “attempted to engage in meaningful, pre-litigation discussions with Fletcher to resolve her claims quietly and amicably,” her lawsuit says. On Sunday, just before Fletcher ended his Senate run, Fletcher’s attorney threatened to sue the worker for extortion, she said.

Fletcher acknowledged “consensual interactions” with someone outside his marriage.

“I haven’t done the things that are alleged but I did violate the basic trust of my marriage and set a terrible example for our children,” he said in a statement.

San Diego County Democratic Party Chair Becca Taylor said Thursday that Fletcher’s decision to resign was appropriate, echoing other political leaders.

Gonzalez Fletcher, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said she loves her husband and believes “his name will be cleared” but that she urged him to resign.

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This story was first published on March 30, 2023. It was updated on March 30, 2023 to remove the name of the government worker making accusations of sexual assault, per Associated Press policy.


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