Local Democratic groups are calling on San Jose Planning Commission Chair Rolando Bonilla to end his campaign for City Council amid decades-old domestic abuse allegations.
Last week, the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee voted 36-7-6 to ask Bonilla to stop his bid for San Jose’s District 5 council seat and step down from the city’s Planning Commission.
The call to end his campaign follows similar resolutions passed a few weeks earlier at the Silicon Valley Democratic Club, one of the South Bay’s oldest Democratic clubs, and the Silicon Valley Stonewall Democrats, which represents the region’s LGBTQ community in the party.
The clubs were concerned by resurfaced allegations of domestic abuse made by Bonilla’s ex-wife in 1999. During a custody battle over their son, she claimed Bonilla was physically and verbally abusive while she was pregnant—allegations Bonilla has vehemently denied.
Bill James, chair of the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee, said he understands the community may never know the truth, and the vote was taken with the survivors of domestic abuse in mind.
“Given that it’s not resolvable, it’s a question of what happens next,” James told San José Spotlight. “If the allegations were false, and his denial is entirely true, I recognize that there was some unfairness to the candidate. However, think of the fairness to the many survivors of domestic violence in District 5.”
He said roughly one out of every eight voters is someone who has experienced domestic abuse, so the focus needs to be on them.
“Those survivors need to have a representative who they can be entirely sure is aligned with them,” James said. “We don’t have enough resources in the city to deal with domestic violence. We don’t have shelters and other supportive services, and advocates are actively on an ongoing basis bringing those requests to the City Council. And we just don’t believe that that those advocates can deal with a councilmember who has had these specific allegations.”
Bonilla told San José Spotlight he understands why the vote was taken, but maintained the allegations are false. He said the allegations are a product of a bitter divorce and tough custody battle.
“It is my understanding that some of the women that voted were themselves victims of domestic violence,” Bonilla said. “Although they do not accept my truth, I am not upset at them, as I know that in their hearts they are trying to stand up for women to ensure that no one has to endure the trauma that comes with such a malicious act. I pray for their healing and that they find peace and comfort in their lives.”
James said the seven down votes and six abstentions were from typically older committee members who voiced concern over the resolution because allegations have not been proven and are about 20 years old, and because of Bonilla’s denial. He said he couldn’t tell San José Spotlight who the down votes were because the committee doesn’t record member votes.
Michele Dauber, a Stanford University law professor and well-known women’s rights activist who led the charge behind the Recall Persky campaign, helped write the first resolution passed at the Silicon Valley Democratic Club. She had no hesitation calling for Bonilla’s resignation. Her efforts led to a voter recall of Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky in 2018 after backlash from a six-month sentence he gave Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner for sexual assault.
“These allegations of severely abusing his pregnant wife are extremely serious and in my view Bonilla owes the women voters of this county a full and truthful accounting of all the facts,” Dauber told San José Spotlight. “He has had many opportunities to do that, but has not done so. At this point I think he should step aside from public life unless and until he does so.”
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.