SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Several San Jose City Councilmembers condemned the use of racist political ads Friday morning, noting that the recent controversy at the Silicon Valley Organization is a problem that’s existed for years.
It’s been a week of reckoning for the Silicon Valley Organization (SVO). On Thursday, a coalition of charities and non-profits condemned the SVO, a nonprofit that describes itself as a “premier business advocacy and networking organization.” The next day, five members of the San Jose City Council held a press conference calling out the tactics of SVO and like-minded groups that run attack ads.
“It’s a culture of racism that has been embedded for years in that organization,” Sylvia Arenas, San Jose Councilmember, said.
The denouncement came as part of the latest backlash over an attack ad on SVO’s website. The ad was for the race for city council District 6 and depicted black protestors on a smoke filled street, and the tagline read, ‘Do you really want to sign on to this?
Critics called out the ad as being racist and SVO promptly removed it this week. CEO Matt Mahood also resigned, several board members have quit and members have left by the dozens.
But local politician Arenas says she’s all too familiar with the tactics of SVO’s political arm, SVO PAC. Arenas noted that SVO PAC sent out this mailer in February that featured a darkened photo of her face.
“I was running against a white candidate and I think they wanted to make a stark difference between myself and that candidate,” said Arenas.
“In the end, those cynical and racist attacks didn’t work. There were a lot of apologies and promises to do better. But we’re here today, once again,” Arenas said.
At the same press conference Councilmember Sergio Jimenez noted that a group ran racist ads about him back in 2016.
“I believe it was sent with a clear message: brown person, crime, bad. Don’t vote for this person,” Jimenez said. “The people believe this crap.”
As the fallout from the SVO ad ramped up earlier this week, the South Bay’s most prominent non-profits and charities called for the SVO leadership to step down. SVO responded by saying they have hired a third party investigator, and all of the remaining staff, and the board members as well, will undergo sensitivity training.
But the council members say, that is not enough.
“We know that the tentacles of racism run deeper than just one person, the well is poisoned, and many have been drinking from it for years,” San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said.
The five Latino members of the city council condemned the latest ad, called for an overhaul of the organization and asked the SVO to renounce racist tactics in future elections.
On Thursday, dozens of Silicon Valley nonprofits and charities cancelled their SVO memberships. On Friday, councilmembers called on member businesses and corporations to do the same.
“Those companies who typically have equity pledges, should really take a look at what their participation in the SVO does, what it means and what their money is really being used for,” said Councilmember Maya Esparza.
The SVO announced it has hired a 3rd party investigator, and that staff and board members will undergo sensitivity training. The SVO issued a statement saying quote:
“The SVO does not condone racist campaign practices from the PAC or anyone else in our community. Racism will not be tolerated in any form at SVO or from its member companies.”
But Serena Alvarez with the League of United Latin American Citizens said there’s a larger racial problem in Silicon Valley.
“The SVO is just one part of a system. The people who have the money to flood these elections are maintaining that system with disinformation, and racism,” Alvarez said.
Len Ramirez & Kiet Do contributed to this story.