A candidate for Santa Clara County supervisor was censured Thursday by the local Democratic Central Committee over a sexual harassment claim filed against him in 2014 by an ex-staffer. Former San Jose Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio—who has denied the allegations that he verbally abused then-chief of staff Denelle Fedor—called the public rebuke politically motivated and a violation of the committee’s bylaws.
The resolution drafted by Democratic Activists for Women Now (DAWN)—a nonprofit that condemned Oliverio’s candidacy back in January—describes a claim settled by the city for $10,000 in 2015 and vows to “educate voters, financial supporters and others about … his egregious actions and misconduct.”
Oliverio’s attorney, Ed Krause, told the packed room at the County Government Center on Thursday that, with less than a week’s notice, the central committee failed to give the candidate enough time to prepare for the proceeding. He also stressed the fact that Oliverio was dropped from the lawsuit.
“You gave no real right and no opportunity to have a true debate on [what amounts to] a character attack … on an issue that is several years old and not really relevant to the upcoming election,” Krause said, echoing points he raised in a letter sent to the committee before the meeting. “So on these matters I’m asking you at least to table this motion now, to have it subject to a proper 15-day notice, where there can be at least a fair hearing where people can debate what this is about.”
Bill James, who chairs the county Democratic Party, stood by the decision to bring up the resolution this week. In a letter sent to Oliverio and his attorney ahead of the meeting (available online here), he said the committee’s bylaws allow the party to express an opinion about a political candidate or elected official.
“As Mr. Oliverio knows, we do not support the candidacy of all Democrats in races in which we have made an endorsement,” he wrote, “and in the race for Santa Clara County Supervisor District 4, we have endorsed Democratic candidates other than Mr. Oliverio.”
The party has endorsed Oliverio opponents Susan Ellenberg, Dominic Caserta and Don Rocha in the race to replace Ken Yeager, who terms out of the county’s District 4 seat at the end of this year. It should be noted that Caserta also faces charges impropriety, as San Jose Inside reported earlier this week.
Aimee Escobar, a DAWN board member and elected Dem central committee official, said the resolution on Thursday reflects the nonprofit’s mission to support women, to support men who support women and to demand accountability for those who don’t.
“We decided that this behavior was something that we needed to point out, especially in light of the #MeToo movement,” she said, “that even our own locals should be held accountable for their behaviors, especially those seeking higher office.”
Randi Kinman, another DAWN board member, said the resolution is about more than Oliverio—it’s about “the totality of the problem” of sexual harassment.
“And in this case,” she said, “he’s first at bat.”
Oliverio said the putative aim of the resolution belied its true purpose: to penalize him for his politics. The county supe candidate, who’s running against six other candidates, is endorsed by the Silicon Valley Organization—the regional chamber of commerce known as SVO—and did not seek an endorsement from the local Democratic Party.
“Comments made at the meeting proved the vote was not about facts but about how my voting record did not align with union positions,” he said in an email Friday morning. “The Democratic Central Committee is controlled by unions and their members actively oppose moderate Democrats such as [San Jose Mayor] Sam Liccardo, [San Jose Councilman] Chappie Jones and myself.”
Oliverio said it’s only fair to mention that Kinman managed the campaign of Steve Kline, a union-backed council candidate who unsuccessfully challenged his re-election bid in 2012. Kline is now the campaign treasurer for Ellenberg.
Julie Garza, another longtime Democrat, said she’s heartened to see her party finally taking steps to publicly address the issue. The allegations Fedor detailed in her lawsuit rang true, she said, because they reflect the experience of so many women.
“It’s very dramatic,” she said of the claim.“And it’s very traumatic. I didn’t know that it was that bad. I had known about it when it came out in the paper years ago, but it kind of just didn’t have any impact really at the time. Now, with the women’s movement and the #MeToo movement, though, it’s taken on more urgency.”
Thursday’s condemnation was hardly the only time Oliverio’s four-year-old harassment claim has become an issue in the campaign. The SVO apologized after coming under fire last month for downplaying the lawsuit Fedor filed against Oliverio, calling the taxpayer-funded settlement “small” and the language he allegedly used against her “colorful.”
And today, local Dems joined union members at a press conference to echo Thursday’s resolution by denouncing Oliverio’s candidacy.
To counter the narrative that Oliverio disrespects women, his campaign produced a YouTube video that features several female supporters vouching for his character.
“His demeanor was always professional and respectful,” says one of the women, noting that she worked with Oliverio for 12 years at Arena Solutions as head of HR. “His personnel record was flawless.”
The video’s release coincided with a campaign mailer that includes a lengthy statement from Oliverio’s partner, Khristina, who says she has witnessed the “intensity of his compassion and concern for others” over the course of their longstanding relationship.
“Although I am a private person by nature, I could not stand idly by while my partner is attacked by special interest groups that are threatened by his fiscal pragmatism,” her statement reads.
When asked if he plans to sue the party for formally rebuking him, Oliverio indicated that the statute of limitations gives him two years to think about it.
Below is a copy of the resolution.
Resolution Condemning the Conduct and Candidacy of Pierluigi Oliverio
WHEREAS, the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee advocates for policies and people who value gender equality and respect for others; acknowledges the importance of safety of all women, especially in the workforce; and believes no human being should ever be subjected to any type of sexual, verbal, mental or physical abuse in the workplace;
WHEREAS, former San Jose City Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio and the City of San Jose were sued by a female subordinate supervised by Mr. Oliverio for alleged sexual and verbal harassment by Mr. Oliverio in the workplace while he was an elected official, the complaint including allegations that Mr. Oliverio told his subordinate “you’re so fucking moody—just like a woman—a moody unpredictable bitch” and that his mother “was hoping that all hope was not lost for you and I having a baby together”; and
WHEREAS the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee believes candidates and officeholders should meet the very highest standards of personal and professional conduct, particularly in the performance of their official duties;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee condemns the conduct and candidacy of Pierluigi Oliverio for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors District 4; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee will educate voters, financial supporters, and others about Pierluigi Oliverio and his egregious actions and misconduct.
Submitted by: Democratic Activists for Women Now (DAWN)