An investigation has cleared a Santa Clara councilmember accused of verbally assaulting the mayor and another colleague during a meeting.
An investigator from California law firm Van Dermyden Makus has found there was insufficient evidence to support claims by Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe, who accused Councilmember Anthony Becker of making hostile, threatening comments to them during a heated exchange at an Aug. 30 council meeting. Becker unsuccessfully ran for mayor against Gillmor in November.
Gillmor and Watanabe told the San Francisco Chronicle they left the August closed session council meeting after tensions flared between them and Becker, who had accused the policymakers of leaking information about the city’s settlement with the San Francisco 49ers. Gillmor and Watanabe said Becker yelled “F—- you” at Watanabe and raised his middle finger in closed session. The mayor and Watanabe left the meeting and Gillmor said she called the police.
Attorney Anjuli Fiedler, who led the investigation, was unable to find evidence that Becker flipped off or threatened his fellow councilmembers. Fiedler did find that Becker said “eff off” in a low tone during the meeting, which she found “unprofessional,” but noted Becker was responding to profanity directed at him by Watanabe.
“I’m glad that the truth has prevailed,” Becker told San José Spotlight, adding he regrets using profanity toward his colleagues. “(The report) basically shoots down a narrative I think that the mayor and Councilmember Watanabe used for political purposes.”
Fiedler, Gillmor and Watanabe did not respond to requests for comment. City representatives declined to comment.
Becker said he believes Gillmor and Watanabe’s claims hurt him in the November polls, when his bid to oust Gillmor as mayor failed by 776 votes. Fiedler had asked all involved parties, including Gillmor, to keep the investigation private until its conclusion, Becker said.
But at a Nov. 1 council meeting, as the council discussed whether to censure Gillmor for leaking privileged information from closed session meetings to media, the mayor said there was an ongoing investigation into Becker’s behavior at the August meeting.
“I suggest that if you… are considering censuring me for leaking confidential information, that the findings of that investigative report be included as part of the discussion,” Gillmor said.
Becker also believes the mayor’s comments about the investigation, her negative campaign ads and articles written on a local blog may have fueled the homophobic attacks and death threats he received during his campaign. Gillmor has shared the blog stories on social media and declined to publicly admonish the homophobic comments against Becker in a council meeting last December.
Becker has been a longtime supporter of the 49ers and the team’s Santa Clara stadium since he was elected to the council in 2020. He and four other councilmembers became known as the “49er Five” after the team spent millions supporting their campaigns in the past two elections.
A grand jury report found that Becker and his colleagues have met with team lobbyists before council meetings. The report recommended recording the meetings and requiring councilmembers to disclose when they’ve met with 49er representatives before they vote on council matters. A team spokesperson called the investigation an inaccurate “hatchet job.” Becker and Councilmembers Kevin Park and Raj Chahal said they were never interviewed during the investigation.
Gillmor and Watanabe have long opposed the team’s initiatives, starting legal battles over stadium concert curfews, rent and management. Becker said their opposite stances on the team have led to several clashes at council meetings.
“I think it’s really sad and unethical that the mayor used this situation as a political tool and as a weapon,” Becker said. “I really would like Councilmember Watanabe and Mayor Gillmor to apologize for misleading the public.”