A small gathering of protesters, most of whom were former political candidates, stood outside of state Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra’s district office in Pacoima on Wednesday, Nov. 1, calling for his resignation and also lashing out at sexual harassment of women.
Bocanegra, offered a public apology this week for an incident in 2009 when he as accused by Elise Flynn Gyore of following her and groping her under her clothes when Bocanegra was chief of staff to then-Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes. An investigation concluded that Bocanegra “engaged in behavior that night which does not meet the Assembly’s expectations for professionalism,” and barred him from communicating with her.
Bonnie Corwin, a former Los Angeles City Council District 7 candidate, described herself as a victim of sexual harassment (though not in politics).
“I was shocked when I first heard of this happening,” said Corwin, who also read a statement before the media denouncing Bocanegra. “Considering I’ve been sexually harassed since I was 14 years old in almost every corporate job, for everything I ever did in my life…when people started calling for his resignation I started thinking of the pain, anguish, and stuff I’ve gone through.
“(Resigning) is the right thing for him to do because he was not criminally prosecuted. It seems he was just rebuked or reprimanded. I just don’t think that’s enough. The only reason he apologized, I believe, is this woman he groped came forward. Otherwise I don’t think it would ever have come to light.”
While unrelated to the accusation of Bocanegra, also recounting her own harassment story was Gwendolyn Posey, a community advocate, event planner and former candidate for the Los Angeles Unified School District board. She was serving as the Northeast Valley community representative on the Best Start committee established by the foundation First 5 Los Angeles when, she said, she was hugged inappropriately last year by Rafael Gonzalez, currently a director of communications for the child advocate foundation First 5 Los Angeles.
She said she and Gonzalez were both at a meeting at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, and were told to go to the community work area they represented.
“He approached, said hello, and I put my hand out to shake,” Posey said. “But he wouldn’t shake it, instead he locked me in his arms. I’m pulling [away] and he wouldn’t let go. And he’s yelling in my ear ‘we need to resolve these matters.’. And I’m like, ‘let me go.’”
She said when Gonzalez saw people were watching, he let Posey go. “And even the day it happened, nobody amongst the First 5 staff stopped him. I had to go into the restroom and collect myself, and attempt to stay at the meeting with the support of other friends who were there.”
Posey said she reported the harassment “about a month-and-a-half after it happened” to First 5LA officials as well as the LA County Supervisors’ offices of Sheila Kuehl and then supervisor Michael Antonovich.
“I’m here today because I can’t help but ask myself does it only matter when it’s a politician, someone in the public eye? Does it matter when it happens to me — a community member — trying to serve her community?
“Where’s the justice for every woman who suffers [harassment] at the hands of a man?
Posey added she saw how her incident could be related to Bocanegra.
“I think that people in power abuse power at times. And it’s something that definitely needs to be resolved.”
Former Assembly member Patty Lopez who lost to Bocanegra in 2016 stood with those who addressed the media, but she did not speak at this protest, although she did speak previously to the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol.
Those who supported the call for Bocanegra to resign included Sylmar resident Ricardo Benitez, a former Lopez field representative. Benitez, translating for a Lopez female election campaigner who said she had been harassed by Bocanegra campaign workers, following her when she would place campaign signs or candidate information and removing them.
“I’m part of the community,” Benitez said. “I hate that people take advantage of women…and not representing them as they should be represented. I’m against abuse of women, so I’m here to support all of these women asking Bocanegra to resign. Just an apology is not enough.”
Bocanegra’s office did not respond to our request for comment regarding this latest protest.