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Angry Windsor residents demand Mayor Dominic Foppoli resign

Resources for survivors of sexual assault

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you can contact:

Family Justice Center of Sonoma County: 707-565-8255

Verity: 707-545-7273

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673 or online.rainn.org

Windsor residents unleashed their fury and fiery disdain at Mayor Dominic Foppoli for hours Wednesday night in a virtual town hall meeting, demanding the mayor accused of sexual assault resign so healing can begin in the community ripped apart by a scandal that could lead to a painful recall election.

Facing a uniformly hostile audience whose participants swore at him, called him a rapist and at times described their own sexual assaults, Foppoli calmly facilitated the first two hours of public comment, flatly inviting people to speak without addressing the incendiary language leveled against him.

Participants used terms like “disgusting,” “deplorable” and “sickened,” as they directed a storm of anger and revulsion over recent disclosures alleging the 38-year-old mayor had sexually assaulted at least six women over the past 18 years. His accusers include fellow council member Esther Lemus, who revealed on Saturday that she suspected Foppoli of drugging and raping her last year.

In a surreal moment during the meeting’s fourth hour, when Foppoli announced he was leaving the meeting “out of respect” for those who were reluctant to speak because he was leading the meeting, the two remaining council members took a hasty vote to demand he resign before they lost their quorum, even though many other people had yet to voice their opinions.

Foppoli suggested they could defer the vote for two weeks, but Councilwoman Debora Fudge, fuming, said, “No, no, I object. You can’t subvert the vote tonight by signing off and having us not have the vote.“

Fudge and Vice Mayor Sam Salmon then voted “yes,” while Foppoli voted against the motion and left the virtual meeting.

Salmon then helmed the meeting, as public comment continued for another 2 1/2 hours.

Foppoli, whose attendance was in question until the meeting began at 6 p.m., appeared tired but resolute as he ran the meeting, announcing at the start that he would not be resigning.

“I have my head held high because I know deep in my heart that I have done nothing criminally wrong and will eventually be cleared," he said.

But Town Manager Ken MacNab said enough staff had expressed discomfort being in his presence, even virtually, that Foppoli had been told to stay away from Town Hall unless it was absolutely essential, in which case he was to call MacNab first.

Every remaining member of the council also had demanded in advance of Wednesday’s meeting that Foppoli resign, as have dozens of other elected officials around the North Coast.

Public outrage

More than 1,000 people squeezed onto Zoom to participate in Wednesday’s 6-hour meeting, with others watching on other platforms once the capacity had been reached on Zoom.

Those who spoke made it clear Foppoli had lost the public’s trust and that it had been replaced with abhorrence.

“Resign, you rapist,” one woman said. “These allegations are credible. They’re multiple. And they’ve been corroborated by lots of people. … And, obviously, there were rumors going on in the town well before this happened. Resign now. You are a rapist.”

Another woman said she was a survivor of sexual assault and told Foppoli his refusal to step down hurt people like her who relived “the terrible things that have happened to us” just by Foppoli’s insisting on remaining in the office.

She begged him “please, please, please, step down,” her voice raw with emotion, and said he made her feel unsafe and worry about her younger sister, a town employee.

“Please step down, and if you don’t, I hope to God that you hear my voice in your head every single day that you don’t.”

Another survivor, a woman called Robin, described an “extremely difficult week” confronting “emotions that I’m sure, like most of the survivors, you try to pretend you’re over. You try to pretend they don’t exist anymore, and not feeling safe in my town is devastating.

“I have five children I’m raising in Windsor, and we’re raising them here because of what Windsor stands for … and for him and his actions to take that away, not just for me and my children, but from all of us, it’s heartbreaking,” she said.

Another caller anxiously described meeting Foppoli after college during catering jobs and as a short-term member of the Active 20-30 Club from which Foppoli was ousted last week. She said she has recently reported to the district attorney some of the things she observed, like seeing Foppoli follow girls into restrooms. She apologized repeatedly for “not saying something sooner.

“I have had my butt grabbed by him, and I have seen some of the things that people are referring to, and we just should have taken this more seriously. And I’m just so sorry to these women that I didn’t come out sooner, ” she said.

Resources for survivors of sexual assault

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you can contact:

Family Justice Center of Sonoma County: 707-565-8255

Verity: 707-545-7273

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673 or online.rainn.org

Others, like Councilwoman Fudge, urged him to put the town first, to allow the town to move forward removed from the distraction and friction caused by his refusal to give in.

“If you love Windsor as much as you say you always have, then you need to resign tonight, so we can move on and start the healing process,” Fudge told him. “That process is going to take a really long time. Trust needs to be built all around the city.”

Allegations against Foppoli

The special meeting was called in response to growing anger over a special investigation published last week by the San Francisco Chronicle detailing the accounts of four women who say Foppoli sexually assaulted them between 2003 and 2019 when they became isolated with him after alcohol-infused gatherings.

Accusers identified by the Chronicle include an 18-year-old volunteer for his state Assembly campaign who had dated him, though they were in the midst of breaking up, when she attended a series of New Year’s Eve parties that ended at a house where she said Foppoli took her into a room and raped her twice, overnight, the Chronicle said.

Calling herself Joan but identified by the Chronicle as the unidentified campaign volunteer, she spoke Wednesday night of how difficult it had been in the aftermath of her trauma watching Foppoli’s political rise and seeing his face on big campaign signs.

Thanking the community for its support for the victims, she said it had restored her faith in the community. “There was a time when I wanted nothing more than just to move away from here, but I was always torn because there’s because there’s so many things to love about it, and now I’m raising my kids here,” she said.

The second accuser was a classmate of Foppoli’s in a Santa Rosa Junior College dance class in 2006 who split a cab with him after a night of drinking and dancing with others, and he directed the cab to his own home, rather than hers, as she expected. When she agreed just to sleep at his place, he slid into bed with her and touched her against her will, finally putting his hand down her pants, she told the Chronicle, until she locked herself in a bathroom and waited for a friend to pick her up.

In 2013, a woman who knew Foppoli through the Active 20-30 Club attended a conference in Reno and had become highly intoxicated in the hotel casino, when a friend asked Foppoli, a local member of the organization, to walk her to her hotel room. Instead, he took her to his room and gave her a drink from an unmarked bottle, and she soon found herself on her knees, her top removed and subject to sexual assault, The Chronicle wrote.

The last was a 21-year-old French intern who said she was groped against her will after drinking at Foppoli’s winery, when she began to feel under the influence of something more than alcohol. She told the Chronicle Foppoli drove her to a house and began to grope her and push himself into her, and she doesn’t remember anything after that.

Two more women have some forward since, including Lemus.

A fifth accuser who came forward after the initial article was published was in a three-year relationship with Foppoli from 2001 to 2003 and told the Chronicle she was forced repeatedly into sex acts and once handcuffed to a bed and sexually abused while she begged to be released.

The council’s response

The allegations have resulted in an uproar over Foppoli’s refusal to step down, as well as the town council’s failure to act on several clues that his conduct toward women warranted scrutiny at least as early as 2017.

In November of that year, then-Mayor Fudge received an email detailing an incident four years earlier in which a woman who rented a guesthouse at Foppoli’s family Christopher Creek Winery with some friends raised concerned about his “predatory nature and abuse of power.”

She described how Foppoli had injected himself into her friends’ joint birthday party, and then joined them uninvited in the hot tub and proceeded to try removing some of the women’s bathing suits and underwear. She also said Foppoli had required two tasting room workers he brought with him to remove their undergarments and don blanket togas, and did the same himself.

“It was choreographed so well, it seemed like had pulled this stunt many times before,” the woman wrote.

The letter arrived 16 days before Foppoli, who was then vice mayor, would have been appointed mayor by his colleagues, by tradition. After confronting him in a closed-door session, they decided not to but voted publicly only after Foppoli begged off the appointment from the dais, saying he wanted to defer his mayorship until after his schedule became less busy and he had more time to learn about the job.

In February 2020, another email was sent to MacNab from a woman who said she had heard that Foppoli had been accused of rape by more than one woman and did not believe he was fit to hold the office of mayor.

Foppoli was then serving his second term as appointed mayor. He would run and win election in November as the town’s first directly elected mayor.

The handling of both emails has been somewhat unclear over the past week, in part because both the town manager and town counsel serving at the time have since departed.

But MacNab said Wednesday that the guesthouse renter who wrote the 2017 email had specifically asked the she not be identified and did not want law enforcement investigating the matter, so it was never forwarded to Windsor police.

When the February 2020 email came, Police Chief Ruben Martinez reviewed both emails. He said Wednesday he found the accusations about the hot tub “troubling, but nothing in that email described a sexual assault.”

If anything, the conduct involved might have amounted to misdemeanor battery, but the statute of limitations would have expired.

As for the second email, one he described as “political in nature,” perhaps because it included other criticisms, a woman said she had “learned recently” of accusations of sexual assault. Martinez said it amounted to hearsay and did not specify a crime or a victim that would prompt an investigation.

Meeting participants were not entirely content with the explanation, and variously chided town staff, town council members and Fudge.

“Every member of our town council has failed us,” one woman said.

Calls for more resignations

Others called for Fudge or even the entire council to step down. “Windsor needs a fresh start,” one woman said.

But in the meantime, Sonoma Mayor Logan Harvey suggested council members thwart Foppoli’s insistence on retaining his post by refusing show in sufficient numbers at meeting to form a quorum.

An alternative, he said would be for the public to speak during public comment in such great numbers that it derailed council business.

Salmon closed out the meeting after 100 or more people had spoken saying “Night,” was probably a more apt parting than “Good Night.”

“It’s with a very heavy heart that we go forward,” he said. “I will examine my role and be responsive to you, the community.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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