A line of voting booths at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters
Silicon Valley racist attack ads continue to be part of the voting landscape this election cycle. File photo.

Silicon Valley election attack ads have reared once more, and some are being viewed as racist.

Labor-leaning candidates and leaders are accusing the Silicon Valley Biz PAC and the California Association of Realtors PAC of racist ad tactics against left-leaning candidates running for San Jose City Council. The candidates include Kansen Chu, Domingo Candelas and Vanessa Sandoval, each running for a different seat.

The most glaring example may be an advertisement against Chu, a former councilmember and assemblymember, running for District 4. The digital ad is a video that starts with an image of Chu next to a Chinese dragon, with a red “X” placed on the dragon and the candidate’s name.

“They tried to portray me as a perpetual foreigner,” Chu told San José Spotlight. “There is definitely some racist undertone so I’m very disappointed (by) what they’re doing and those independent expenditures, I think we need to regulate them a little bit more.”

Screenshot of the attack ad against Kansen Chu.

The video claims Chu is a shady politician who has been issued five warning letters by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission for violating election laws. Chu said those warning letters never resulted in a fine because he complied with the law.

The Silicon Valley Biz PAC paid for the ad and has spent nearly $17,000 to oppose Chu as of Feb. 21, according to its campaign filings.

Victor Gomez, who heads the PAC, said Chu and his supporters are calling the ad racist to distract from Chu’s track record.

“I find it ironic that they would call somebody like me, a Hispanic Mexican immigrant, racist, but that’s what you always hear from the left,” Gomez told San José Spotlight. “Anytime you criticize a labor candidate, ‘you’re racist, you’re racist, you’re racist.’ That’s all they do every single time because they have no other way to combat the messaging.”

Gomez said he doesn’t see the ad as racist. When asked about the X on the dragon, he said “the X should be on top of his face.”

“The ad has nothing to do with being racist,” Gomez said. “It has everything to do with holding Kansen accountable for being a slimy politician.”

However, Gabby Chavez-Lopez, executive director of Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, doesn’t see it that way. She argues that organizations use tactics that are subliminally racist to deter voters from choosing certain candidates.

The most common in most election cycles, she said, is darkening skin tones of candidates.

An attack ad against District 8 incumbent Councilmember Domingo Candelas. Gabby-Chavez Lopez of the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley believes his skin was darkened.

Lopez argues that darkening the images is likely a tool to make candidates look more sinister, but the consequence is that it reinforces a correlation that people with darker skin tones can’t be trusted, or are unethical.

“Then that just feeds into the white supremacy,” Lopez told San José Spotlight.

Vanessa Sandoval, a city council candidate for District 2, said she has had nine attack ads paid for by the California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee — and in most of them, her skin has been made darker. The PAC is primarily funded by the California Association of Realtors.

One of the several attack ads against District 2 candidate Vanessa Sandoval. She believes her skin is darkened in this image.

The PAC did not respond to requests for comment, but has spent an exorbitant amount of money against Sandoval and Candelas, who is running to keep his District 8 seat. As of Feb. 21, the PAC spent almost $117,000 against Sandoval and $134,000 against Candelas.

“I was shocked because I thought as a society, or at least as a city, that we were over this, that we had moved past this,” Sandoval told San José Spotlight.

Sandoval referenced a 2020 scandal when the Silicon Valley Organization, now renamed as the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, dissolved its PAC because of backlash from several racist ads it sent out. The PAC was the primary way the business group raised money and lobbied for or against candidates — and its ending sent waves through the community.

But Sandoval said she thought special interest groups would learn their lesson.

“It’s hurtful, it’s racist and you know that the tone is trying to race bait,” Sandoval said. “They’re really trying to feed on people’s biases and it’s just a horrible way of campaigning because it diminishes you as a person — they’re not showing who you really are.”

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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