Assessor candidate to return about $71,000 in campaign contributions after photo scandal — but intends to stay on Valley Water board

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Silicon Valley entrepreneur Gary Kremen said Sunday he will return tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions after dropping out of the Santa Clara County Assessor’s race in light of misconduct allegations.

But the now former assessor candidate also said he’s sticking with his current role as one of seven directors of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, where he also serves as chair of the board. The news comes despite calls from some public officials to take a step back from public service.

“I am staying,” he said defiantly in a text on Sunday.

The misconduct accusations, detailed in a San José Spotlight article published Saturday, come from an anonymous former campaign staffer who said Kremen sent them semi-nude photos of himself and his longtime partner over Dropbox. The former staffer, who worked for Kremen’s campaign last year, also alleged other questionable behavior from Kremen that later spurred their resignation. Kremen bowed out of the race hours after the allegations became public.

Kremen’s partner, Essy Stone, said in a statement, “I am upset that my private family photos have been used in this way.”

Kremen, founder of Match.com who gained fame in the 1990s after obtaining the website domain sex.com, was challenging Assessor Larry Stone in the June primary. Stone has held the office for 27 years and Kremen was his first major challenger since 2006.

Over the course of 2021, Kremen raised $71,273 from Silicon Valley’s technology gurus and venture capitalists, as well as a smattering of local politicians and state representatives. Kremen had also put in $170,000 of his own money into the race.

But the money from his supporters will be returned, according to Kremen. One of his supporters, Palo Alto Councilmember Alison Cormack, said in an email she was getting her $1,000 contribution back after asking for it. Cormack did not respond to an additional request for comment.

Sunnyvale Vice Mayor Alysa Cisneros, who tweeted out multiple reactions when the allegations became public on Saturday, said in a statement that “there is no place in public life for people who use their positions of power to abuse and mistreat others, especially in a sexual nature.”

She added, “The account in San Jose Spotlight demonstrated a pattern of behavior consistent with grooming, a hostile work environment, and retaliation. At minimum, Mr. Kremen should apologize and resign all positions in public service. I have been struck by the silence from people who have supported Mr. Kremen in the past. Those who profess to stand with and believe women have the responsibility to speak up even when it might feel uncomfortable to do so.”

David Ginsborg, a longtime former top employee at the assessor’s office and a Stone supporter, also called for Kremen to resign his Valley Water District position.

“I think he should step back from public service,” Ginsborg said. “Full stop. There’s a lot about Gary that is good. And if he wants to be the type of person he wants to be, he should step back from these extracurricular activities and focus on family and what matters.”

Linda Alexander, who leads Democratic Activists for Women Now, a female-led San Jose-based organization which bills itself as advancing a progressive agenda in the region and endorsed Kremen in January for the assessor’s position, said in a statement that it “supports victims who come forward, and we stand against all instances of harassment.”

Alexander added that the organization agreed with Kremen’s decision to withdraw from the race.

A spokesperson for state Sen. Scott Wiener, who endorsed Kremen, declined to comment.

Five out of six of the other Valley Water District directors did not respond to a request for comment. District Two Director Barbara Keegan declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Valley Water District did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

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