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Miss Sonoma County leader resigns position

Longtime Miss Sonoma County representative Tony Geraldi, a routine fixture at public events as the official escort of young titleholders, has resigned as secretary/treasurer and appearance coordinator for the nonprofit organization.

Geraldi is well-known throughout the region as general operations manager for the Sonoma County Airport Express and frequent volunteer for such groups as the Sonoma County Fair Board.

But it was his role as companion and chaperone to Miss Sonoma County winners through which the 58-year-old gained particular visibility, attending major political, social and business functions throughout the year.

Miss Sonoma County contestants are 18 to 25 years old. Those competing in its sister organization, Miss Sonoma County’s Outstanding Teen, are 13-17.

Several Miss Sonoma County titleholders said they made well over 100 appearances during their reign.

Geraldi told The Press Democrat he left his post Wednesday because he no longer has time to fulfill the role, which one former Miss Sonoma County said requires being at different venues around the county at all hours of the day and night.

Geraldi also attended Sunday rehearsals through pageant season, from about November to early March, and helped contestants with mock interviews, pageant strategy and other aspects of competition.

But questions also have arisen in recent months about what a few pageant participants have described as behavior or actions by Geraldi that made them uncomfortable.

In interviews with The Press Democrat, they complained of unwanted hugs and kisses on the face, as well as over-involvement in their lives and too many probing personal questions.

One young woman, who was then 16 and Miss Sonoma County’s Outstanding Teen of 2018, recalled an incident “engraved in my head” after a dinner at a Miss California contest, when Geraldi “grabbed my head and gave me a kiss on the forehead.”

“I just felt so gross afterward,” said the woman, Pinkeo Phongsa, now 19.

Geraldi, a widower since 2011, declined to address questions about his conduct in a Press Democrat interview. He’s simply too busy to continue serving, he said.

“I resigned because I’ve got too much on my plate,” he said. “I resigned because I’ve got a lot going on in my life.”

Geraldi added he was unprepared to discuss suggestions some of his behavior may have been inappropriate, saying, "I really, truly don't know what this is about."

Former Healdsburg Mayor and Councilwoman Brigette Mansell, a retired educator, said she had known Geraldi for 14 years as an indefatigable, generous community member and supporter of young women. That includes co-chairing, with Mansell, the successful campaign of former Miss Sonoma County 2014 Skylaer Palacios, who was elected to the Healdsburg City Council last fall.

Mansell also served as pageant judge in 2018 and said she’s never seen any behavior on Geraldi’s part she would consider questionable.

But another contestant, Lyndsey Burcina, 21, said Geraldi has asked repeatedly over the past year if she thought any of his behavior toward pageant participants could be misconstrued, particularly since explosive sexual assault allegations were made public last April about former Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli, a longtime supporter and one-time pageant judge.

Since April, Foppoli has been accused by at least nine women of sexual misconduct and sexual assault.

“The disturbing amount of times (Geraldi) asked me, ‘Can anything I’ve done been taken the wrong way? Do you think any of the girls would later try and turn my actions into anything they weren’t?’

“And my first thought was, ‘If you have to ask anything like that, then you’ve done something questionable,’ ” Burcina said.

Other contestants say Geraldi has been an invaluable mentor and guide.

“Tony Geraldi is not only a good friend of mine, but he’s been a supporter of me my entire career,” said Ashley Kimball, Miss Sonoma County 2013. “He has changed my life.”

Calls to the pageant director and Miss California field director for the area were not returned late Wednesday.

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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