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Rosa Reynoza sees desire for transparency in Windsor special election win amid Foppoli scandal

Rosa Reynoza emerged victorious from Tuesday’s special Windsor Town Council election as the sexual assault scandal that has engulfed Mayor Dominic Foppoli drove voters into her corner and propelled a political outsider into public office.

Reynoza came away with 47% of the vote in preliminary returns, staking what looks to be an insurmountable lead over her two closest rivals, Jeffrey Leasure and Oscar Chavez, who were nearly tied with around 17% of the vote as of Wednesday afternoon.

Voters wanted someone “who is willing to fight and bring up issues that other people will tip toe around,“ Reynoza said Wednesday in an interview.

Ballots postmarked or delivered by Tuesday will still be accepted until Friday, but an influx significant enough to change the results was unlikely. Voter turnout so far stood at about 39%.

Though Foppoli wasn’t on the ballot, he nonetheless loomed over the election that arose from his ascension to the mayor’s seat and unfolded under a cloud of scandal after seven women publicly accused him of sexual assault.

“The job is bigger now,” Reynoza said of her new post. “Everyone sitting on the council has a bigger job in this moment but me in particular … one of the reasons I got voted in is to bring back a sense of openness, honesty, transparency.”

Reynoza lost to Foppoli in the town’s first citywide mayoral race in November 2020 by a roughly 12% vote margin. Voters in Tuesday’s contest got a chance at a something of a redo, some observers and candidates said.

As a political outsider without wealth and power behind her, “Rosa was the antithesis of Dominic in the November election,” said Julia Donoho, who came in fourth in the preliminary results, with 15% of the vote.

Voters were looking for “someone they feel comfortable with, someone they know and Rosa’s been out there knocking on doors for awhile,” said Dennis Rosatti, a political consultant who worked for Chavez.

As a top official in county government and former Windsor school trustee, Chavez received a number of high profile endorsements, including the local Democratic Party and three county supervisors — Lynda Hopkins, Susan Gorin and James Gore. Windsor Councilwoman Esther Lemus also endorsed Chavez, and Councilwoman Deb Fudge served as his campaign treasurer.

Reynoza, Donoho and Chavez all saluted a race they say stayed collegial amid immense political turbulence in the town.

With Lemus, Reynoza’s election puts two Latina women in office in Windsor, a high-mark for diversity in the county’s fourth largest city, where Latinos make up more than 33% of residents according to 2019 data.

“It’s always important that we have greater diversity on our elected boards, especially those that bring a different lived experience,” said Chavez, who called Reynoza Tuesday night to congratulate her on the win.

The election window and the Foppoli scandal aligned nearly exactly. Ballots were mailed to Windsor’s 17,050 registered voters on April 5, just three days before the San Francisco Chronicle published an explosive investigation into claims of sexual assault against the mayor from four women.

During the campaign, “there wasn’t a day that there wasn’t an article about it,“ Donoho noted.

Foppoli has proclaimed his innocence and refused to resign even as three more women have come forward to accuse him of sexual abuse or assault. The allegations span a period from 2003 to 2020 and his accusers include his fellow councilmember Lemus.

Public scrutiny has mounted on the town and law enforcement amid broad calls for Foppoli’s ouster, including street protests and a six-hour procession of angry and distraught public speakers at an April 14 council meeting that Foppoli himself presided over.

Town officials have defended their response to two emails, one in 2017 and one in 2020, that were passed on to law enforcement in early 2020 but triggered no investigation by authorities. The 2017 email led council members at the time to deny Foppoli a term as mayor — a brief halt in his political ascension that lasted only one year.

A Windsor resident since 1979, Reynoza said she would do more when concerns about a powerful community member arise.

“There were murmurs around town, there were murmurs on social media and the town council chose to not look into it because to them it was an attack based politically only,” Reynoza said. ”My approach to something that would happen in the future is to acknowledge the concern of the community and say ’no, let’s look into it, let’s talk about it.’“

Both Windsor Police Chief Ruben Martinez and Councilwoman Fudge have said a 2020 email alleging Foppoli had been accused of rape by multiple women was “political" in nature and came at a time when they had scant evidence of Foppoli’s alleged behavior toward women.

Those critical of the town’s response have argued more should have been done, in particular by law enforcement officials, who made no effort to contact either email writer.

Though Reynoza has positioned herself in campaigns as running in opposition to the Windsor political establishment, Fudge, a longtime councilmember and former mayor, said she would collaborate with the newcomer even if they wouldn’t always agree. Reynoza made similar comments.

“Our council operates with respect for each other’s opinions and respect for each person so I expect that will continue,” Fudge said.

Reynoza will likely be sworn into office on June 2, provided the vote is certified by then, Windsor Town Clerk Maria De La O said Wednesday. She will join a council whose near-term makeup remains uncertain.

“There’s still a great deal of unknowns up here in Windsor,” Fudge said.

A recall election is just getting off the ground to remove Foppoli, and law enforcement investigations are ongoing. The outcome and timeline of both those processes are uncertain, but a quick resolution is unlikely in either case.

The Town Council continues to explore other ways to remove him from office. Lemus, a deputy county prosecutor, has asked town officials to look into new policies and procedures for investigating misconduct allegations against elected officials.

Reynoza intends to support an initiative promoted by Vice Mayor Sam Salmon to pursue campaign finance reforms for the town, she said. Foppoli was a big money raiser in his various runs for political office, and Reynoza said the presence of large donations in municipal elections holds back change. She also would term limits, she said.

“There needs to be a turnaround there needs to be new people stepping up,” she said.

Windsor voters won’t have to wait long to have an even greater say on the makeup of the council. Three seats are up for contention in November 2022 in the town’s new, district-based system of elections.

At Wednesday night’s council meeting, Fudge called for the candidates to stay active in local politics. "I hope they will stay involved because we need them more than ever now," she said.

Staff Writer Kathleen Coates contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

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