In a stunning downfall for a veteran local politician, Santa Clara City Councilman Dominic Caserta resigned Tuesday and suspended his campaign for supervisor amid mounting sexual harassment allegations that signaled the #MeToo movement’s potency.
The three-term councilman — a top contender for county supervisor — saw his political career upended in the past two weeks as former campaign staffers accused him of unwanted advances and impropriety and complaints surfaced at Santa Clara High School where he teaches.
“The hallmark of a successful elected official is to effectively and passionately serve his or her constituents,” Caserta, 43, said in a news statement Tuesday morning. “I can no longer do that at this time.
“As a result, I have decided to resign my seat on the Santa Clara City Council, something that is against every instinct in my body,” Caserta continued. “In addition, as a former front-runner for the Board of Supervisors, I can no longer effectively communicate the issues that I am campaigning on… Thus, I am suspending my campaign for supervisor, and will no longer actively campaign.”
Mayor Lisa Gillmor said Tuesday that Caserta’s actions were a “terrible stain” on the city and thanked him for stepping down and his accusers for their “courage” in coming forward.
Caserta is among a host of public figures since last fall to be called out by women accusing them of unwelcome, work-related sexual advances in what has become known as the #MeToo movement. Nationally, the fallen have included movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, NBC TV anchor Matt Lauer and Minnesota Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken.
Local figures are under scrutiny as well. A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge faces a recall spurred by critics who accuse him of going soft on sexual abusers. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s president is on leave and his top deputy resigned over employee allegations of sexual harassment. And one of Caserta’s rivals in the supervisor race is facing renewed questions about a settled sex-harassment claim by his former top aide.
But the mounting accusations against Caserta, a married father of a 2-year-old boy, may be more serious. Santa Clara police Capt. Wahid Kazem said Tuesday the department has received more than nine complaints about Caserta ranging from inappropriate behavior to sexual battery. An investigation is ongoing, he said, and nothing has been submitted to the district attorney for consideration of possible criminal charges.
“Something as serious as these allegations, we don’t want to rush the process,” Kazem said.
Caserta’s resignation came the same day the council was set to meet to discuss options for reprimanding him, including asking for his resignation. It was unclear whether Caserta, who did not attend the last council meeting or recent candidate forums, would attend.
The council has 30 days to replace Caserta, and will begin discussing its options next week.
Ian Crueldad, a former Caserta campaign worker who quit after alleging Caserta walked around in front of staff in nothing more than a towel, said after the councilman resigned that “the community and victims can now properly start to heal.”
“Mr. Caserta seems to have this godlike complex,” Crueldad said, adding that he was scared to come forward at first but “realized it was the right thing to do.”
Crueldad’s May 2 account to San Jose Inside about Caserta’s behavior around staffers as he ran to replace termed-out District 4 Supervisor Ken Yeager opened a floodgate of complaints. A week later, Lydia Jungkind, a 19-year-old German exchange student who worked on Caserta’s campaign after taking his Foothill College class, reported that Caserta gave her unwanted kisses and massages, called her “sexy” and put his hand on her thigh.