Dominic Caserta has been losing key endorsements in his bid for Santa Clara County supervisor since San Jose Inside’s reporting unearthed numerous allegations of sexual harassment, bullying and other forms of misconduct by the veteran high school teacher.
His campaign website’s endorsement page went down at some point this morning as erstwhile supporters began bombarding the Santa Clara councilman with urgent phone calls and emails asking to scratch their names from the list.
The South Bay Labor Council, which also backed San Jose Councilman Don Rocha in the county race, pulled its endorsement for Caserta after an emergency meeting Tuesday just hours after San Jose Inside published its exposé.
Santa Clara County Dems withdrew support the next morning.
“We do not have the capacity to investigate or verify these accounts independently, but our executive board considered the allegations to be serious and sufficiently credible to warrant our taking action … at our next meeting,” the local Democratic Central Committee Chair Bill James wrote in a statement to members. The statement continued: “We believe women of all ages should be free of any form of harassment, at school, in the workplace, and in any other setting.”
Some of the region’s biggest public safety unions took things a step further, rescinding their endorsement but also calling on Caserta to pull out of the county race and resign from the Santa Clara City Council.
“We are appalled by the credible allegations of sexual harassment, inappropriate touching, and repugnant behavior made against Dominic Caserta by multiple campaign staff and volunteers and children he taught,” reads a letter signed by the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, the Santa Clara County Government Attorneys’ Association and the San Jose Firefighters Local 230.
“Further,” the letter continues, “we are deeply disturbed by the incidents recounted by female students, who were minors, alleging inappropriate touching, communication, sexual innuendo and leering that occurred on the school campus where Caserta works, including in his own classroom.”
Tom Saggau, a spokesman for the public safety unions, said the swiftness of the decision was unprecedented. “Everybody’s moving quicker than I’ve ever seen them move,” he told San Jose Inside in a phone call this morning. “It’s extraordinary to see these institutions move as quickly and as firmly as they have in response to this article.”
The public safety unions represent prosecutors, police and firefighters who care deeply about victims, he explained, which is why the allegations struck a chord.
“Once we read the piece, we got on the phone with [union] leadership and made a recommendation to rescind,” Saggau said. “It was a very brief conversation after that. I mean, there was no debate, there was no question of what had to be done.”
They decided that if they yanked their endorsement of Caserta and asked him to bow out of the race, it would also be reasonable to demand that he vacate his council seat.
“If he’s not good enough to be a county supervisor, he’s damn sure not fit to be a council member,” Saggau said.
South Bay Labor chief Ben Field said the union coalition also takes the allegations of harassment very seriously, and because it holds elected officials to “the highest standards of integrity,” it can no longer support Caserta.
“In light of the allegations of sexual misconduct by Dominic Caserta against students and a former employee, the South Bay Labor Council executive board has voted to withdraw its endorsement of his candidacy for Santa Clara County Supervisor,” the labor council wrote in a statement.
The Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association and Santa Clara Firefighters Local 1171 pulled their endorsements later in the day Wednesday, sending out a joint press release condemning the alleged behavior.
“We are both disappointed in Mr. Caserta and committed to strenuously and transparently seeking justice on behalf of all victims,” the statement declares.
Before publishing Tuesday’s story, San Jose Inside asked Michele Dauber of the campaign to recall Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky if she would take back her endorsement. Upon reviewing records from Caserta’s personnel file, she revoked her support. As did Bay Area Women’s March co-organizer Jennie Richardson.
Caserta’s campaign consultant, Laura Teutschel, backed out next, announcing her resignation in an email sent an hour and 20 minutes after the article went live.
In a press release posted on his campaign website Tuesday, Caserta emphatically denied the harassment allegations that came to light when the Santa Clara Unified School District leaked a portion of his personnel file and suggested that San Jose Inside’s reporting is politically motivated. But his written defense completely ignored claims of inappropriate touching by a campaign staffer who worked for him up until last week.
To date, San Jose Inside has collected scores of accounts from former students and colleagues who say that Caserta, 43, has a longstanding history of sexual harassment, bullying and deputizing students to perform self-serving tasks ranging from door-to-door campaigning to washing his car in exchange for extra credit.
The district’s own records show that Caserta was not only the subject of multiple harassment complaints, he got caught for violating testing policies and soliciting students for money to support his political endeavors.
And though Caserta maintains that he was “exonerated” or “cleared” of all wrongdoing, records indicate otherwise. In 2002, to name one example, the principal at the time told Caserta that the district found “sufficient evidence” to determine that his sexually charged comments and actions created “a hostile work environment” for students in violation of school policy.
Caserta was a no-show at work on Tuesday, according to some of his co-workers at Santa Clara High. And he didn’t make it to that evening’s council meeting, where a few critics—including NAACP Silicon Valley President Jethroe Moore—urged Caserta’s elected colleagues to censure him or press for his resignation.
Because the matter was not on the agenda, Mayor Lisa Gillmor refrained from commenting, except to say that the city takes the allegations seriously.
While Caserta was ducking reporters and official duties, his opponent Rocha posted some photos on Facebook of him yukking it up with Gillmor, who rescinded her endorsement of Caserta last summer.
Caserta and Rocha are running against five other candidates in the June 5 primary: Maria Hernandez, Mike Alvarado, Jason Baker, Susan Ellenberg and Pierluigi Oliverio.
Below is the entire statement from the San Jose police and fire unions and the government attorney association.
“We are appalled by the credible allegations of sexual harassment, inappropriate touching, and repugnant behavior made against Dominic Caserta by multiple campaign staff and volunteers, and children he taught. These allegations have been reported by San Jose Inside and the MercuryNews.
“Further, we are deeply disturbed by the incidents recounted by female students, who were minors, alleging inappropriate touching, communication, sexual innuendo, and leering that occurred on the school campus where Caserta works, including in his own classroom.
“As such, we call for Dominic Caserta to immediately withdraw as a candidate for County Supervisor and resign as a Santa Clara City Councilmember.
“As a teacher and as an elected official Caserta has held a position of trust. A trust that multiple young women report was betrayed while they were in subordinate positions to Caserta. These young women counted on Caserta to educate them, not exploit them. They deserved better. We applaud their courage to come forward with their stories and we believe that they deserved better.
“It is clear from the San Jose Inside article that the Santa Clara Unified School District sustained at least one sexual harassment complaint against Caserta. This complaint was from a female student in his class. It is apparent he hid this pertinent information to protect his political career and to mislead those who he sought support from.
“Dominic Caserta should be ashamed of himself and instead of denying his behavior he should apologize, withdraw from the County Supervisor race, resign from the City Council and focus on repairing the harm he has caused multiple victims.
“We did not sit silently by as former San Jose Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio was sued for his unacceptable behavior. We will not be silent as Dominic Caserta denies his own. The voters of District 4 now have two candidates that should be held accountable for their horrific treatment of women and have demonstrated they are unfit to serve our community.”
And below is the full statement from the county Democratic Party.
In recent days, press accounts have reported allegations of inappropriate conduct on the part of supervisorial candidate Dominic Caserta towards former members of his campaign staff and students.
The Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee takes these charges very seriously. We believe women of all ages should be free of any form of harassment, at school, in the workplace, and in any other setting.Due to the seriousness of the allegations, the Executive Board of the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee has voted to revoke our endorsement of Mr. Caserta in the race for Santa Clara County Supervisor, District 4, effective immediately. Under our rules, this action is subject to approval by the entire Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee at our next regularly scheduled meeting.
This article has been updated.