Community groups and leaders in Santa Clara County are speaking out against attack ads using race-baiting tactics to pit one minority group against another.
Groups including the Asian Law Alliance, San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, SOMOS Mayfair and Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet rallied in front of San Jose City Hall Wednesday to condemn racist dog whistles and baseless claims made in mailers to create conflict and division among voters of color.
“We are angry and disappointed,” said Philip Nguyen, executive director of Vietnamese American Roundtable. “We convene this morning to condemn the ways that political action committees, political operatives and campaigns have utilized and relied on racist, fear mongering tactics and allegations.”
Nguyen and others point to mailers funded by the Silicon Valley Biz PAC that claim Santa Clara County Supervisor and San Jose mayoral candidate Cindy Chavez is “trying to silence the Asian American community in San Jose” by supporting efforts to unseat two Vietnamese American councilmembers and sending a cease-and-desist letter to a local Vietnamese American school board member for criticizing her track record.
As first reported by San José Spotlight, Chavez’s campaign sent a cease-and-desist letter to East Side Union High School District Trustee Bryan Do for falsely accusing Chavez of being “a communist and a member of radical left-wing communist organizations.” Do said he did not call Chavez a communist.
Tensions reached a boiling point when Do attended a flag raising ceremony at the Viet Heritage Garden and spoke out against Chavez, who was in attendance but left before Do spoke. Do then faced condemnation from the Santa Clara County Democratic Party for “racially-motivated” comments.
“There is a long history of political opportunists trying to undermine our unity,” said Susan Hayase, member of San Jose Nikkei Resisters, referring to efforts to bring different communities of color together. “We recognize (these mailers) as another attempt to manipulate and to politically use us Asian Americans against other people of color.”
Victor Gomez, executive director of the Silicon Valley Biz PAC, said the coalition is singling the PAC out to support Chavez.
“Once again, Cindy Chavez and her supporters claim racist ads are being tossed her way, with nothing to prove their accusations,” Gomez told San José Spotlight, adding nothing was done when Santa Clara County supervisor candidate Johnny Khamis faced attack ads altering his skin tone. “Why didn’t her supporters cry foul back then? Because Chavez and her supporters only complain when they feel they are impacted, not when true racism takes place.”
The coalition is condemning similar tactics used in other contests, including an attack mailer against San Jose District 3 candidate Omar Torres that some called “classic old school race baiting.”
“We must ensure we respond to efforts that seek to divide us,” state Assemblymember Ash Kalra said. “I’m standing in solidarity with the message that we must unite together and reject all of those that seek to use race to divide us, and all those that funded these costs. Because there must be accountability.”
San Jose has seen an avalanche of attack ads in the weeks leading up to election day. Sajid Khan, a Muslim deputy public defender who unsuccessfully ran for district attorney in June, has also become a “boogeyman” with his face being included on at least two political mailers demonizing him and his affiliation with current candidates.
Carmen Brammer, a member of the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet, urged voters to cast their ballots this election to fight divisive attempts.
“We’re not going to allow them to destroy us and make divisive issues amongst us so that we end up remaining at the bottom of the barrel,” Brammer said. “For those who don’t think your vote matters, it absolutely does.”
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: Victor Gomez sits on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.