San Jose business leader mulls ending political endorsements, new name
Glenn Perkins, The Silicon Valley Organization's incoming board chair, speaks about the investigation on Nov. 10, 2020. Photo by Carly Wipf.

The Silicon Valley Organization’s newly-hired chief executive officer says the powerful business lobby should no longer endorse candidates.

In the latest episode of The Podlight, CEO Derrick Seaver told host Bob Staedler that he’s looking to ending the organization’s tradition of political endorsements and changing SVO’s name back to a variation of its previous name, the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“I believe there is a role for the SVO and the chamber to have a seat at the table on issues … as they impact and relate to the business community,” Seaver said. “The SVO and the chamber should have partnerships with all members of government—state, local and federal—and we should not be in the political candidate business.”

In the past, the SVO endorsed pro-business candidates and historically opposed pro-labor supporters. Ending its endorsement practice could leave pro-business candidates such as San Jose Councilmembers Dev Davis and Matt Mahan without valuable fundraising prospects and name recognition in future races.

It could especially be crippling as the city’s two powerful political factions — business and labor — fight for the mayor’s office next year. The SVO, however, can’t spend money on the races after it dissolved its PAC in the wake of a racist campaign ad scandal.

Even if it stops endorsing candidates, business advocates hope the SVO advocate for policies that support small and medium businesses.

“It’s very important for them (the SVO) to continue to do the advocacy work on behalf of the business community on the day-to-day policymaking at San Jose City Hall and the surrounding communities,” said Victor Gomez of the Business San Jose Chamber PAC, a political action committee that endorses pro-business candidates.

Derrick Seaver. Photo courtesy of the Silicon Valley Organization.
Derrick Seaver. Photo courtesy of the Silicon Valley Organization.

Business leaders lost their majority on the San Jose City Council last year when former Councilmember Lan Diep lost his seat to progressive Councilmember David Cohen. Pro-business groups have not coalesced behind a candidate for next year’s council and mayoral elections, but the SVO has had considerable influence in choosing candidates.

The SVO is eyeing a handful of bills it’s willing to support in the coming months, however.

The rebranding efforts follow former CEO Matt Mahood’s resignation in October amid a racist campaign ad the SVO released against a political rival.

The organization saw immediate fallout and dissolved its PAC. Businesses and nonprofits cut ties and membership dropped. The SVO also darkened the face of San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas in another racist ad and blamed a consultant for it, but continued to work with that consultant last year.

While there is a void left by the dissolution of the SVO PAC, Gomez said that won’t necessarily mean a lack of support for pro-business candidates.

“Even though we’re seeing companies leave California because of the lack of support from their leaders, we’re not seeing that translate into less dollars,” Gomez said.

Mulling a name change is also part of Seaver’s rebrand for the 135-year-old organization. The SVO changed its name in 2017 to reach a broader business community. Seaver said he’s consistently approached by business and community leaders about changing the name.

“We’re going to absolutely take that to heart and have that conversation,” Seaver said.

Seaver begins his new post in May, relieving interim CEO Bob Linscheid, appointed in December after Mahood’s resignation.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Victor Gomez serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

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