Who is responsible for The SVO’s racist image? They won’t say
Councilmember Sylvia Arenas speaks at an Oct. 30 new conference to condemn a racist attack ad alongside Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco, Raul Peralez, Sergio Jimenez, and Maya Esparza. Photo by Patrick McGarrity.

Three days after a racist image appeared on The Silicon Valley Organization’s website, the business lobby remains mum about who is responsible.

Additionally, campaign finance records show the business group continues to work with a campaign consultant blamed for another racist campaign message posted in February.

The most recent image, posted Oct. 27 and quickly deleted, depicted Black men on the street surrounded by clouds of tear gas, asking if District 6 voters wanted to “sign on to this.” The post was an attack on City Council candidate Jake Tonkel’s stance on police reform.

The fallout for The SVO was fast and intense. Its longtime CEO, Matt Mahood, resigned. Prominent board members and loyalists, including Joshua Howard and Jeanne Serpa, cut ties.

Influential businesses and nonprofits rescinded memberships. Lawmakers denounced The SVO and Councilmember Dev Davis — who is being challenged by Tonkel and was endorsed by The SVO — handed over the campaign contributions she received from the organization to the NAACP.

The SVO officials quickly blamed a “web administrator” for the post. Days later, they won’t say who the web administrator is or what company, if any, was used.

The SVO leaders, including Executive Vice President Madison Nguyen and government relations director Eddie Truong, did not respond to numerous requests for the information.

Amid the crisis, The SVO hired a public relations firm, PRxDigital. Its Vice President Terry Downing told San José Spotlight she “didn’t know” who was responsible for the image.

“The board has taken swift action and launched a third-party investigation into how such an image could have been posted. That investigation will be completed by the end of next week,” Downing said in a statement to San José Spotlight. “To be absolutely clear, The SVO, including its board and staff, does not condone racist campaign practices from the PAC or anyone else in our community or organization. Racism will not be tolerated in any form at SVO or from its member companies.”

Campaign finance reports show Storefront Political Media was paid more than $134,000 from Sept. 20 to Oct. 17 to design campaign mailers and digital ads opposing Tonkel and District 4 challenger David Cohen. Some of that money was spent supporting Davis.

Nearly $65,000 of that money was spent on digital ads opposing Tonkel and Cohen.

San Francisco-based Storefront Political Media ran the mayoral campaigns of Mayor Sam Liccardo and its CEO Eric Jaye is a close advisor and confidante to Liccardo, serving on his secret kitchen cabinet a few years ago.

A snapshot of some of Storefront Political Media’s work on digital ads for The SVO.

The SVO would not confirm if Storefront Political Media was responsible for the racist campaign messaging.

“We neither saw nor posted the picture on The SVO website that has caused justifiable outrage this week,” said Katie Scally, account executive at Storefront Political Media. “Particularly as a woman of color I found the image deeply offensive.”

Scally said the campaign has been focused on Tonkel’s stance on residential zoning.

Earlier this year, The SVO came under fire for darkening the face of Latina Councilmember Sylvia Arenas in an image, another racist campaign message. Truong at the time again blamed an outside campaign consultant, Chariot Campaigns, for a “technical mistake” that resulted in the altered image.

But The SVO continues to work with Chariot Campaigns, despite its role in creating racist imagery.

Campaign finance reports show The SVO paid Chariot Campaigns nearly $80,000 in the past month to create mailers opposing Assemblymember Kansen Chu, who is running for Santa Clara County Supervisor against SVO-backed Otto Lee.

A snapshot some of Chariot Campaigns’ work on campaign ads for The SVO.

Arenas joined four council colleagues known as the Latino Caucus — councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez, Magdalena Carrasco and Maya Esparza — to condemn The SVO.

Arenas said despite SVO’s apologies and Mahood’s resignation, it is problematic that SVO is still tied to the outside agencies it used to create campaign ads.

She said Storefront Media and Charcot Campaigns are contributing to a racist culture within the organization. She called out Charcot for being the organization that targeted her reelection campaign.

“That was the organization that manipulated the color of my skin and recent campaign disclosures show that Chariot Campaigns continues to produce attacks, especially against Assemblymember Kansen Chu,” Arenas said. “Earlier this year in February, they promised accountability. That was a lie. Today we face the same issues.”

Arenas said ads darkening the skin of both her and Jimenez went unnoticed. “We’re here today because this attack was conducted against a white candidate,” she said.

Carrasco said Mahood’s resignation was just the first step toward change.

“We know that tentacles of racism run deeper than just one person,” Carrasco said. “History is asking us to lean in to step up, and what SVO has done instead has been the opposite. They’re tone deaf. As the world is grappling with very difficult questions around racism and oppression, The SVO has chosen to instead support candidates and policies that divide us and that support policies that do not protect the most vulnerable.”

Contact Ramona Giwargis at [email protected] or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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