By Robert Haugh
He wasn’t in the room, but DominicCaserta was the talk of last night’s emotionally-charged Council meeting. Early in the meeting, the near-capacity Council chambers exploded with applause when the Council unanimously accepted Caserta’s resignation.
Of the 23 people who spoke on the item, many shared candid, personal stories. They were strong and tear-jerking stories about how Caserta sexually or verbally harassed his students and campaign workers — all minors or young adults.
Former campaign volunteer Lydia Jungkind, 19, who was the first female victim to come forward in the media said Caserta “knew I was vulnerable … he thinks he is invincible.”
Another former student, Savannah Nunez was brought to tears while telling her story. She said Caserta would frequently call her on her cell phone and even visited her at home. She described Caserta as sexually stalking her and called him a bully. She says she filed complaints with two different principals at Santa Clara High School.
Some speakers mentioned the 49ers in their testimonies. Tamara Pantic, a 2017 Santa Clara High graduate and former Youth Commissioner said Caserta would “brag on numerous occasions about how happy he was to have been a lobbyist for the 49ers, that thanks to them, he had a Mercedes and a comfortable life.” She added, “I could not enter his classroom without taking antacids to prevent myself from vomiting. I cried when asked to answer a question for a few weeks following the incident.”
Another former campaign manager, Eric Stroker said Caserta was a coward for not facing his accusers and concluded his speech by saying “Later @$$hole.” He got a lot of applause.
Testimonies were not limited to former students and campaign workers though.
Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilwomen Teresa O’Neill and Debi Davis also spoke about past bullying by Caserta:
O’Neill said of Caserta: “Lots of abuse has been heaped in this council room (by him) … Maybe we have to say Time’s Up.” A tearful Davis said “I myself have endured his bullying … I don’t like the way he treated some of the women on the Council.”
Gillmor concluded by saying she and her colleagues are “not going to sit back” and will “push it to the limit without violating anyone’s rights.”
Gillmor showed a lot of empathy in the way she ran the meeting. She gave victims time to speak and frequently said “it’s okay” when they were having trouble. Gillmor also received a lot of compliments from her colleagues. Councilman Pat Kolstad, O’Neill, and Watanabe in particular praised her leadership for bringing a tough issue forward.
Councilwoman PattyMahan is Caserta’s closest political ally. It was noticeable that Mahan didn’t mention Caserta by name when she complimented the victims for speaking. Mahan tried to tell the victims that their experience was like her having cancer. That was awkward.
Mahan didn’t defend Caserta but tried to change the subject. She went on a tirade about how the Council should fill his now vacant seat. She didn’t stop speaking when Gillmor and City Attorney Brian Doyle asked her to stop talking about the details of a CVRA lawsuit facing the City.
Doyle felt he had to lay the smackdown on Mahan, reading a portion of the City’s ethics code and mentioning that she could be jeopardizing taxpayers’ money by speaking on confidential closed session matters. Mahan’s a lawyer, but she seemed angry and clueless last night. Caserta’s resignation is a big loss for her.
Earlier on Tuesday, Gillmor held a press conference about an hour after Caserta announced his resignation. All the council members stood with her — except Mahan.
Here’s the text of Gillmor’s statement.