Sonoma City Council member Rachel Hundley targeted by anonymous website

Terming an anonymous website ‘slut-shaming,’ Rachel Hundley stands her ground.|

The race for Sonoma City Council had barely started when the campaign was rocked by the launch of an anonymous website that purported to show racy photos and describe scandalous behavior of a sitting city council member. The site is titled: “Rachel Hundley Exposed.”

The single-page site showed photos of Hundley in tight clothes, hugging her food truck, partying and making funny faces. A series of bold-face links – most of them broken – promised further exposing of Hundley and a lengthy diatribe alleged her lifestyle and ambitions were unworthy of a Sonoma city official. The WordPress site was credited to a group calling itself “Sonoma Citizens for Peace and Cooperation.” (Note: Linking to the site now results in a message saying, “This domain is parked.”)

Hundley herself received notice of the website via an anonymous email on Aug. 13.

“The little we've done so far in researching your history is highly troubling,” it read. “We believe your behavior is immoral and unethical and has no place in our town. We encourage you to reconsider your intention to run for City Council. Sonoma needs moral and ethical leadership our children can look up to, and our community can trust. You do not measure up.”

The email urged her to drop her bid for re-election, “otherwise (her) candidacy this time will be one of full disclosures to all Sonoma.”

Hundley, in a phone conversation with the Index-Tribune expressed surprise that the council campaign had taken this type of turn so quickly.

“I had a suspicion this election season would be a little nastier than previous,” said Hundley. “But I didn't think it would start this soon.”

Hundley quickly fired back. Within days she posted a video on YouTube, titled, “Sonoma Councilwoman Says No to Slut-Shaming.” In the 4-minute post Hundley vociferously condemned the “anonymous coward” who built the web site, and sent the letter, which she characterized as “nothing short of extortion.”

The video allowed her to address some of the website's allegations about her activities at Burning Man. Hundley describes her role at the art festival as simply managing a “well-known wine bar that is associated with a consent-focused, sex-positive theme camp.”

“Yes, even in the middle of the Nevada desert,” she says with a smile, “I get to talk about Sonoma Valley wine.”

But there was nothing funny about the exchange of anonymous website and fired-up rebuttal, which clearly roiled the Sonoma City Council even as it met twice in a week to do the city's business.

“There's a lot of bad things happening in Sonoma right now to a lot of city council members,” said Councilmember David Cook at the council's Aug. 21 meeting. “I've been a city council member for six years, and I'm outraged… Sonoma is better than that.”

As much as the intimidation that the website clearly intended, it was the anonymity and nastiness of the attacks that disturbed many. “The lid is off the sewer and civility is losing,” said Walt Williams, a Creekside School teacher and occasional Index-Tribune contributor.

The timing of the website's publication was telling. The ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) Whois website, which records online domain names, shows that the website's owner and creator are masked, only that it is published on the popular WordPress platform. The website URL is dated on Aug. 8 of this year – the day she filed papers to run for re-election.

The sudden eruption of an anonymous website supposedly representing a larger group of anti-Hundley citizens mirrored an earlier anonymous website, That site appeared in the days after Hundley, as mayor, led an initiative to upend the commission appointment process, ending the terms of several sitting Planning Commission members.

The site also includes a list of Planning Commissioners and other city officials who have resigned or not been reappointed, presented as “Ex-Mayor Hundley's Assassination List.”

As to her next move, Hundley said she's been in contact with “the relevant authorities” and is exploring her options. “Mostly, I want the creators identified because the public deserves to know who is trying to influence our election,” said Hundley.

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