The search for the Silicon Valley Organization’s next executive is on after CEO Matt Mahood stepped down last week over a racist attack ad published by the group’s PAC.
The political hit, which aimed to criticize progressive San Jose D6 challenger Jake Tonkel, featured a photo of Black men in the midst of a cloud of smoke or tear gas along with the question, “Do you really want to sign on to this?”
The business organization’s ad was meant to mischaracterize Tonkel’s stance on police reform and his presence at a number of Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. But the piece quickly backfired and led to board members stepping down and a number of businesses severing ties with the chamber.
As the SVO conducts its internal investigation, multiple sources say that the names of two prominent South Bay leaders are being bandied about for Mahood’s replacement: SPUR Chief of Local Impact Teresa Alvarado and former San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Cunneen.
Alvarado declined to weigh in on the rumors, but said at a press conference last week that SPUR would rescind its SVO membership.
“Seemingly every election cycle, the SVO is forced to issue an apology due to actions of its PAC,” she said. “That will no longer be sufficient. While as a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization we do not take stances related to any particular candidate or political party, we can and do take a strong stance against racist actions and speak out when we see them. The mailer in the District 6 race and others in Mountain View and Los Altos, and image on the SVO webpage, reveal a disturbing pattern of racist tropes.”
Cunneen told Fly that he didn’t think an upper middle-aged, white lifelong Republican—who left the party after President Donald Trump was elected—was the right choice to be the next SVO executive.
“I’ve never met the organization’s chair and no one with authority from the chamber has contacted me about that,” he said. “I have offered immediate advice last week to some community leaders about bold steps they should take.”
Cunneen added that he was glad the PAC was dissolved and emphasized that the ad was racist and a misrepresentation of Tonkel’s position.
An SVO spokesflak did not respond to a Fly’s request for comment by press time.
The chamber’s leadership has been tight-lipped as of late and refused to answer questions from reporters at a news conference last week on the ad. Results from the SVO’s internal investigation are expected to be released Nov. 10.