Who will lead San Jose’s chamber of commerce?
The SVO office in downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

Six months after losing its CEO amid a widespread scandal, Silicon Valley’s largest chamber of commerce is close to naming its new leader.

Several front runners have emerged in the hunt for the Silicon Valley Organization’s new top boss, but the business group is keeping the process under wraps.

After the resignation of CEO Matt Mahood in October, following public outrage over a racist campaign ad posted on SVO’s website by its political action committee, the organization went without a top leader for nearly two months. Interim CEO Bob Linscheid was appointed in December. His last day on the job is reportedly in early May.

The organization saw immediate fallout from the racist image. It dissolved its PAC. Businesses and nonprofits cut ties with the organization and its 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.

This time around, SVO officials partially blamed political consultant Storefront Political Media and discontinued work with the agency. The group launched diversity trainings and formed a diversity panel.

Yet two of the three candidates under consideration are white. Some community leaders say it’s tone deaf for an organization plagued by racist ideology.

“This proves that the SVO’s hours and hours of meetings with our diverse communities was a complete waste of time because clearly they didn’t care and definitely did not listen,” said Walter Wilson, a longtime Black community leader and member of the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet of Silicon Valley.

NAACP leader Jeff Moore said the community needs real, tangible change in leadership — not establishment candidates.

“They don’t offer much of a difference or a change, it’s just the same Liccardo-ism,” Moore said. “I think the community wants and deserves a change, and that means something completely different.”

Among the candidates:

Derrick Seaver is the chief of staff for Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg. Seaver manages Ellenberg’s staff and works on land use, environment and transportation policy, constituent services and community events.

Before joining Ellenberg’s office, Seaver worked at the San Jose Downtown Association for a year as the director of policy and operations. Prior to that stint, he was the executive vice president for SVO for 4.5 years. He was criticized by some business leaders for being too progressive and recently led Ellenberg’s push to adopt hazard pay for grocery store workers, a proposal staunchly opposed by the business lobby.

Pete Constant is a former San Jose police officer who served from 1986 through 2000, and then served as a San Jose councilmember from 2007 to 2014. According to Constant’s LinkedIn, he works in the greater Sacramento area as the CEO of the Retirement Security Initiative, a national advocacy group dedicated to public sector pension reform.

“At this point I’m not comfortable confirming or denying this rumor,” Constant told San José Spotlight. Constant publicly fought with the city’s police union after pushing to curb pension benefits.

Before Mahood got tapped, Constant in 2011 lobbied for the top job.

Madison Nguyen serves as SVO’s current executive vice president. Nguyen joined SVO in Jan. 2018, after a year as the executive director of the nonprofit Hunger at Home. Prior to that, Nguyen served as a San Jose councilmember and vice mayor from 2005 through 2014.

Nguyen did not return a request for comment.

Jim Reed, Mayor Sam Liccardo’s chief of staff who also once worked at the SVO, said others encouraged him to apply, but he didn’t go for the job.

“I have the best job in San Jose right now,” Reed told San José Spotlight.

Linscheid, who told this news organization in December he worked around the clock to repair the SVO’s reputation, declined to say how many people applied for the job, how many are being interviewed or even when a final decision is expected.

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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