Chamber CEO set to lead San Jose councilmember office
Nick Kaspar, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce is leaving the chamber to be San Jose Councilmember Maya Esparza's chief of staff. Photo courtesy of Nick Kaspar

Nick Kaspar, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce, is leaving the world of business and stepping into politics at San Jose City Hall.

Kaspar will be Councilmember Maya Esparza’s chief of staff starting June 15, leaving behind a daunting three years at the helm of the Santa Clara-based chamber.

“The SV Central Chamber is an incredible organization and I am happy that I was able to be a part of supporting and growing so many businesses,” Kaspar said in a statement Wednesday. “I am very excited for my new role as Chief of Staff for Councilmember Esparza, but I will always appreciate and support the Chamber.”

Kaspar arrived at the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce shortly before Santa Clara councilmembers raised concerns over the organization’s contract to manage the city-owned convention center, which had been in place since 1975.

The chamber had become the de-facto choice to attract events and create profits for the city and surrounding hotels. But a city-ordered audit of the previous decade alleged the group had mismanaged the facility and in 2018, officials severed the longstanding agreement.

In response, the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce rebranded and announced a new mission to connect to the entire region and partner with other local chambers.

The group removed the pyramid shapes evoking the city’s convention center architecture from its logo and became the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, more audits followed, commissioned in a no-bid contract by the city to see whether the chamber had mishandled funds in the past. The final report, released late last year, claimed that over an approximately five-year period, the chamber shorted the city $682,950 — an amount that Kaspar insists is not accurate.

But the chamber this year seemed to mend ties with the city in an effort to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and help businesses struggling to stay alive during a shelter-in-place order that forced many to shutter.

And despite those trials, Harbir Bhatia, a board member, said the chamber is in a better spot today than it was when Kaspar arrived. She’s sad to see him leave, she added.

“He chose to step up and take on this very difficult period of our history and our story,” Bhatia said in an interview Wednesday. “He did it to his best ability and we’re so much further along than where we were. … He leaves with great relationships.”

Christian Pellecchia. Photo courtesy of Ninico Communications

Now Kaspar is preparing to lead Esparza’s staff at San Jose City Hall.

Esparza’s former chief of staff, Andrés Quintero, left in January, the councilmember said in an interview Wednesday. Her office conducted a search for a new leader and landed on Kaspar because of his experience in policy, schools and youth, she said.

Quintero served a year in the councilmember’s office after she was elected in 2018.

“One of my main focus areas in District 7 is the work of the Monterey Corridor Working Group, a committee that the mayor created … to focus on land use and transportation to transform the Monterey corridor into a southern gateway to San Jose,” Esparza said. “I think his background brings a lot to that process.”

Christian Pellecchia, vice president of operations for Slatter Construction and a current chamber board member, will oversee daily operations starting June 11 until a permanent president is hired.

“Christian is a respected and experienced business leader in the community,” Ravinder LaL, a chamber board member said in a statement Wednesday. “He is an excellent choice to oversee daily operations, giving us additional time to ensure we select the right person for the permanent role.”

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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