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‘It’s become a distraction’ County Council candidate says after admitted sexual harassment

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Just like many movements for equal rights in America, the path for women to seek recourse from sexual harassment has been through the courts. But grassroots activism in the 1970s opened the space for a nationwide conversation, and the Civil Right
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Just like many movements for equal rights in America, the path for women to seek recourse from sexual harassment has been through the courts. But grassroots activism in the 1970s opened the space for a nationwide conversation, and the Civil Right

Whatcom County Council candidate Brett Bonner, who admitted last week that he was “blackout drunk” and sexually harassed a Whatcom County woman online, said Tuesday morning that he is suspending his primary campaign for the council’s at-large seat.

May 20 was the deadline to withdraw from the Aug. 6 primary race, according to the county Auditor’s Office, but Bonner said he won’t actively seek the post.

“It’s become a distraction,” Bonner said in a phone conversation shortly before noon Tuesday, followed by an emailed statement.

“I’ve suspended the campaign,” Bonner said. “I can’t withdraw, but I’m suspending all campaign activities.”

Auditor Debbie Adelstein said state law governs how names can be removed from a ballot, and the deadline has passed.

“His name will be on the ballot, but he said he won’t be campaigning,” Adelstein said in an interview.

Ballots will be mailed to voters July 17 in Washington state’s top-two primary, according to the Auditor’s Office website.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

How we reported this story

We received a tip about the harassment. Our reporting process is to verify the credibility of sources, ask others about the allegations and then to ask those directly involved to explain what happened and why.

Why we’re doing this story

Our mission is to hold leaders accountable. We believe voters should know about the behavior of potential Whatcom County Council members.



Kathy Kershner, chair of the Whatcom Republicans and a candidate for the County Council’s 4th District seat, said she thinks Bonner made the right choice.

“I think it’s appropriate to say that we all hope that (Bonner) continues on his path of recovery,” Kershner said in an interview Tuesday.

In an interview with The Herald last week, Bonner, 55, said he was “blackout drunk” when he engaged Daniella Pentsak in conversation via Facebook Messenger the night of Feb. 25-26, 2019.

Bonner asked for a date and then ultimately for sex, according to dated and time-stamped screenshots that Pentsak, 23, forwarded in an email to The Herald.

“It’s very strange,” Pentsak said in an interview last week. “I don’t want a blind eye turned to people like him.”

Pentsak, who graduated from Western Washington University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, and didn’t respond to interview requests Tuesday.

She’s studying for a master’s degree in public policy with the online Walden University.

Pentsak worked on the 2018 election campaign for the Whatcom Republicans as both a volunteer and a paid aide, but Bonner was never her direct supervisor and the two have never met in person, both Bonner and Pentsak said.

At the time Bonner messaged Pentsak in February, he was the county GOP’s vice chair — but he started working for the party in December 2018 and never directly supervised Pentsak, Kershner said.

Bonner told The Herald last week that when he realized what he’d done, he approached Kershner and resigned from the party leadership.

Later, Pentsak approached Kershner with her concerns, but Bonner had resigned, Pentsak said.

Pentsak said she believed Kershner handled the harassment appropriately, and that Pentsak only came forward with her information after Bonner filed to run for office.

“As long as he was gone from the vice (chair) position, I had no problem,” Pentsak said last week. “When I was notified that he had filed (May 17) I was very confused and shocked.”

Meanwhile, Bonner told The Herald that he checked himself into the Betty Ford Center near Palm Springs, Calif., for treatment of longstanding alcohol addiction.

Bonner said he’s been sober since treatment in March and April.

“I haven’t had a drop to drink, so that’s good, even though it’s been a stressful weekend,” Bonner said Tuesday.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.
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