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Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli signals he won’t resign as outraged constituents, congressmen say he must go

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 Mayor Dominic Foppoli has informed other local lawmakers that he intends to defy growing demands for his resignation and has said he can refute detailed allegations made by four women who say he sexually assaulted them over a 16-year period.

Foppoli, who has declined to be interviewed since the allegations were first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, made his comment in text message to The Press Democrat on Friday.

“I will have a full statement out refuting each charge individually,” he said.

The statement never came as of 10 p.m. Friday, and the 38-year-old winery owner and politician remained out of public sight Friday, even as more than dozen demonstrators rallied outside his home carrying signs and calling for him to step down at once.

The county’s two congressmen, Reps. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael and Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, have added their voices to those calling for his ouster.

“These multiple, corroborated accounts suggest a pattern of predatory sexual misconduct that is deplorable and totally unacceptable,” their joint statement said. “It is not possible for Mr. Foppoli to credibly or effectively continue serving on the Windsor Council. We call on him to resign immediately.”

Demonstrators gathered at the Windsor Town Green and amassed at the town’s main Highway 101 overpass before heading to Foppoli’s westside home, where they placed some of their handmade signs on a white Tesla parked in the driveway and against the home’s exterior.

Veteran Windsor Councilwoman Debora Fudge, who underwent a hip replacement surgery on Thursday and had not weighed in substantively on the scandal, said she agreed with the town’s other two council incumbents, Esther Lemus and Sam Salmon, that the mayor was no longer fit to serve.

A close political ally of Foppoli’s in the past two years, Fudge had backed his hold on the mayor’s post through two appointments and last year’s direct election. Now, she called him “a predator.”

“Dominic Foppoli must be removed from office if he fails to step back on his own,” she said in a written statement. “He must be brought to justice and held to the highest standards — no one is above the law, and I hope those he has wronged are vindicated, and that Dominic is held accountable. He is not a leader, he is a predator … and he must go — now.”

The fifth seat, vacant since Foppoli’s election last fall, is to be filled by special election next month. Several candidates for the post also have called for him to quit.

But Foppoli’s fellow eight mayors in Sonoma County, all of whom called for him to quit on Thursday, were among the first to hear that he has no intention to step down.

Cloverdale Mayor Jason Turner, head of the Sonoma County Mayors and Councilmembers’ Association, said Foppoli informed him Thursday afternoon that he would not be resigning.

Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers said he and the other mayors can only think Foppoli doesn’t understand the seriousness of his situation.

“The word that sticks out in our mind (is) he’s delusional if he thinks things are going to be business as usual,” Rogers said.

He said those who have worked with or endorsed Foppoli in the past are “looking at him in a different light and can’t in good conscience continue to work with him as if these allegations don’t hang out there.

“Just being really blunt, many of us read that article … and were completely sickened, and the least that we can do to try to help our community is to support the survivors and make sure he is not able to normalize remaining in office after such significant charges have credibly been brought against him. And I think that’s the key there: The evidence that was presented in the article was credible. It was meticulously documented, and we can’t ignore that.”

The League of California Cities stripped Foppoli from a post on a leadership committee. “Given the nature and seriousness of the accounts, we felt we had no other choice but to remove Mayor Foppoli from his Cal Cities’ position,” the group said in a statement.

Rumors of an explosive story about some sort of misconduct involving Foppoli have circulated for the past two weeks or so, local politicians have said. But Foppoli’s fortunes continued to look up as late as Tuesday, when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors signed off on his board appointment to the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. Supervisors on Thursday signaled the county would move quickly to try to rescind that appointment.

Wednesday night, Foppoli attended a bimonthly Town Council meeting, even as Chronicle reporters sought last-minute comments from Windsor public officials.

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

The story published on Thursday detailed alleged assaults dating back to New Year’s Eve 2003, when an 18-year-old volunteer for his unsuccessful state Assembly campaign said he sexually assaulted her after persuading her to drink for the first time. The most recent alleged incident came in 2019, involving a 21-year-old French intern who worked for him at Christopher Creek Winery near Healdsburg. The mayor forcibly kissed and groped her after taking her for a ride in his car, the Chronicle reported.

Another woman, a classmate from a dance class, found herself isolated with him in after splitting a cab ride that she thought would drop her off at her home. They ended up at Foppoli’s house instead. She said Foppoli attempted to have sex with her, despite her objections. She locked herself in the bathroom for the night to keep him at bay, the newspaper said.

The fourth woman, who encountered Foppoli at an Active 20-30 civic club meeting in Reno, said he engaged in oral copulation with her while she was nearly unconscious and too drunk to consent, the Chronicle reported.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said Friday her office has since “been in contact with individuals who have information concerning the allegations contained in the reporting," she said.

Fudge scanned the story on her phone en route to an East Bay hospital for surgery and said she was shocked by what she read. As the hours unfolded, she became aware of myriad accusations that she had known about his misconduct in some form and had done nothing.

“I’ll tell you right now, I did not know these things,” she said.

In particular, Windsor residents are fuming after reading of a complaint about Foppoli submitted to Fudge in November 2017, when she was mayor, by someone who rented his winery guesthouse in 2013.

A woman had rented the house with friends to celebrate joint birthdays when Foppoli, who would not be elected to the Town Council for another year, invited himself to dinner and later got into the hot tub with them, ignoring their cues indicating he wasn’t wanted there, the woman wrote in an email to Fudge.

The woman said Foppoli had insisted two young tasting room workers with him don blanket togas and remove their undergarments, as did he. In the hot tub, he kept topping off guests’ wine glasses and started trying to remove their bathing suits and underwear, she wrote.

But it wasn’t until 2017, when Foppoli was vice mayor and would, by tradition, assume the mayor’s post in 16 days, that the woman wrote her letter to Fudge, saying she wanted to highlight his “predatory nature and abuse of power.”

“I've tried to bury my thoughts and feeling about him because it has been a source of trauma and feelings of anxiety for me,” her letter said. “However, as a new resident of Sonoma County, it has come to my attention that this individual is now in a position of political power.”

Fudge said she did as town policy requires, and turned the email over to the town manager and attorney to look into. Both have since left the town and it is unclear what they found out.

They also supplied copies to the other council members: Salmon, Mark Millan and Bruce Okrepkie. “All agreed there was no way he was going to be mayor,” Okrepkie said Friday.

Fudge said she called Foppoli several hours before the Dec. 6, 2017, meeting to reorganize the council and told him she could not support him for mayor.

That night, as the subject was broached, Foppoli announced himself he wanted to “go a little bit out of the norm” and defer his assent to the top post. Foppoli said he had come to realize how much time would be involved given “really unique times” that included a new town manager, a recent wildfire, and his own professional projects, according to a video of the meeting.

Okrepkie was appointed mayor instead, though Salmon said Friday it was clear Foppoli knew he would not be supported and “made the decision to cave in.”

A year later, Dec. 5, 2018, Fudge did nominate Foppoli to be appointed mayor, saying she “would be very pleased” to do so, according to a video recording.

“He’s been a true leader in the last year,” she said in that meeting. “I’ve been pleased to work alongside him, as I think we all have.”

Okrepkie, Lemus and Foppoli voted in favor. Salmon, who nominated himself, abstained.

The allegations against Foppoli brought about 40 people to the Old Redwood Highway off-ramp in Windsor Friday afternoon, where demonstrators showed their support for the women who said they were assaulted by Foppoli and demanded the mayor’s resignation.

“I think if he doesn’t step down on his own, he should definitely be recalled,” said Larkfield resident Vanessa Petersen, one of the protesters.

Breanna Weaver, 31, said she wasn’t surprised to hear about the women’s allegations. She’s a volunteer with the Active 20-30 Club, where Foppoli also was a member until his ouster Thursday, and said she had been cautioned to avoid being alone with him.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of us understood the depth or the breadth of what was going on,” Weaver said.

Roughly half the group splintered off at about 5:30 p.m. and headed to Foppoli’s home, echoing their earlier calls for him to step down as about eight deputies watched from the other side of the street.

“F--- your wine, it’s time to resign,” the group chanted.

Along with the sign left on a car in the driveway, they held fliers apparently intended for neighbors. “You live next door to a rapist,” the fliers said.

An unidentified man opened the front door during the demonstration and told protesters, “He’s not here. Go away,” before shutting the door.

Staff Writer Andrew Graham contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com.

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