By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A campaign seeking to recall San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, who has resisted mounting pressure to resign over sexual harassment allegations, shifted into high hear on Sunday as organizers began collecting signatures for a petition demanding his ouster.
Recall proponents will need to amass at least 102,000 valid signatures within 39 days, by September 26, in order to qualify a recall vote for the ballot, a deadline that some experts have said would be difficult to meet.
But Michael Pallamary, a local Republican activist who helped spearhead the bipartisan campaign, said the effort got off to a brisk start with volunteers collecting many thousands of signatures during the first day spent circulating petitions.
"People are literally running up and signing," he said. "It's an amazing momentum and a sign of the people's anger."
Another organizer, John Cox, said the recall campaign signed up more than 800 volunteers online, and 500 more showed up in person to register to serve as signature collectors. He said the campaign also has fielded about 600 telephone calls from individuals promising to help circulate petitions.
If they succeed, the most likely scenario for a special recall election would be a citywide vote sometime in mid-March, spokeswoman Rachel Laing said.
If a recall is authorized, voters will be asked two questions - whether or not to remove Filner, and who they like best to replace him from a list of any candidates who have qualified to oppose him.
The effort comes after 16 women have come forward since last month to publicly accuse Filner, a 70-year-old Democrat and former U.S. congressman, of groping or making other unwanted sexual advances toward them.
The first was Filner's former press secretary, Irene McCormack Jackson, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the mayor and city on July 22.
The allegations have prompted nearly every elected official of both parties in San Diego, California's second-largest city, to call on Filner to resign, along with the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee.
The city last month brought its own lawsuit against the mayor, seeking to recover any damages the municipal government might incur from the litigation. The City Council also voted to deny Filner's request for San Diego to pick up his legal bill.
But the mayor has so far refused to stand down. Instead, he has publicly apologized for what he has acknowledged was a pattern of disrespectful and intimidating treatment of women and took a brief leave of absence to enter behavior modification therapy at an undisclosed clinic.
His lawyers say he has since left the clinic but was taking some additional time off last week before returning to work.
Signature-collectors fanned out at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday through the city's Gaslamp Quarter, an historic district filled with nightclubs, bars and restaurants. They moved later to the finish line of an annual marathon race in Balboa Park.
About 200 recall supporters also staged a half-mile (800- meter) march around City Hall in the afternoon, led by attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing Jackson and a handful of other women who have accused Filner of inappropriate behavior.
The mayor also has come under growing scrutiny for his use of city-issued credit cards for what opponents describe as questionable expenses and for allowing city lobbying contracts to lapse for several months.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith plans to ask the City Council later this month for permission to bring another lawsuit against the mayor under a City Charter provision that allows for the removal of any city official found to have made unauthorized expenditures of municipal funds. The mayor's office has said Filner intends to pay back all of the expenses that have been called into question.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Eric Walsh)