San Jose Planning Commissioner and City Council candidate Rolando Bonilla is disputing allegations that have recently resurfaced regarding domestic violence and child support.
About 20 years ago, Bonilla’s ex-wife accused him of physical abuse during a custody battle for their son and claimed he failed to pay child support on different occasions, according to media reports.
The claims were made public in 2004 when Bonilla was running for San Francisco supervisor from an article by the San Francisco Examiner which detailed the alleged abuse. The article said the woman tried and later dropped attempts to get a restraining order twice. In that article, Bonilla adamantly denied allegations.
In a Thursday interview with San Jose Spotlight, Bonilla echoed that sentiment after the story resurfaced on social media. He chalked it up to two emotional 20-year-olds who fell in love, were married for three months because of an unplanned pregnancy that ended in a negative divorce and custody battle.
“This has been a very public part of my life for the last 23 years. Obviously, it’s not true. What is true is true: two 20-year-olds fell in love, were highly emotional in a custody battle,” Bonilla said. “(We were) both kids ourselves, getting ready to have a kid. We didn’t really know each other and obviously both wanted to have our son in our lives.”
Bonilla said she made those allegations in an effort to win the custody battle, but the state never leveled charges against him.
“Family court is highly emotional, particularly when you have kids involved,” Bonilla said. “There was nothing to substantiate allegations that mind you were only made when it was time for the child custody situation.”
The 2004 article references court documents and wrote that Bonilla’s ex-wife claimed during an argument in the final stages of her pregnancy in March 1999, Bonilla grabbed her by the hair and shoulders, shoved her and covered her mouth and nose until she “almost fainted.” In another incident, his ex-wife claimed Bonilla “grabbed me by my arms, then pulled my arms and slammed my back into the wall.”
When asked about these allegations, Bonilla said there was “verbal jousting but never, never did these incidents occur.”
In response to the child support claims, Bonilla said he may have been delayed in making payments sometimes, but always paid them.
“I had three jobs and was going to college,” Bonilla said. “I wasn’t in the financial position I’m in today. However, very clearly, every single cent has been paid.”
This is the first time Bonilla has had to answer to these allegations during his race for the District 5 City Council seat, but it’s not the first time it has come up in his 20-plus year political career. Bonilla said when he first applied for the San Jose Planning Commission, a packet with this information was sent anonymously to the full City Council. He thinks that’s why he didn’t get the seat the first time.
When asked who sent the packet, Bonilla said he didn’t know.
His second attempt to join the commission, which he now chairs, was successful. His current wife, Perla Rodriguez, wrote to the board to defend Bonilla and deny allegations. She described her husband as a “kind, warm, and loving person.”
“As a strong, educated, career woman, Rolando has been my biggest champion and supporter in the almost 15 years that we have been together,” Rodriguez wrote in 2019. “Those who know our family know that Rolando is a responsible and loving father to our three children. Those who know us as a couple know that he is a loving and supportive husband and life partner to me.”
She said the allegations are nothing more than a smear campaign in “brutal, blood sport,” that is politics.
Terry Christensen, a local political observer and San Jose State University political science professor emeritus, said it’s unclear how much this will impact the District 5 race or Bonilla’s campaign.
“The next short period is kind of crucial because when stuff like this comes out, people either tend to drop out—and it doesn’t sound like Bonilla is remotely likely to drop out—or they stay in and fight,” Christensen told San José Spotlight. “This could weaken him, or maybe he is lucky that it just came out so early.”
Bonilla believes his political opponents are behind the push to resurface these allegations.
“I’m proud of my family, I’m proud of life that I’ve had,” Bonilla said. “Everyone reading this article has gone through something in their life. We are measured by what we do after and what I’ve done after is not only raised an amazing family with my wife, but also have been helpful to many, many people, from sending DACA students to college, to providing resources to small businesses.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: Perla Rodriguez, spouse of Rolando Bonilla, sits on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.