The CEO of Silicon Valley’s largest chamber of commerce has resigned amid outrage over a campaign ad that some called racist appearing on the organization's home page.
On Thursday, the Silicon Valley Organization, formerly the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, announced CEO Matt Mahood resigned his post and the agency was launching a "top-down," third-party investigation. At least three board members also resigned.
The ad depicting Black men apparently rioting with the caption “Do you really want to sign on to this?” was posted on the Silicon Valley Organization’s (SVO) website and was part of a Facebook ad campaign attacking Jake Tonkel, a San Jose City Council candidate, who the SVO said supports defunding police. But it struck a nerve for many people.
“I was disgusted, disappointed and angered immediately,” said Rev. Jethro Moore II from Silicon Valley NAACP.
The controversial photo is not of San Jose – it’s unclear where it was taken.
Madison Nguyen, the SVO's executive vice president, said the organization's political action committee's activities have been suspended pending the outcome of a third-party investigation. Some voters may still receive SVO mailers because they were sent earlier, she said.
Some candidates who received campaign contributions from the SVO have donated the money.
A number of prominent community groups have decided to cut ties with the SVO, dropping out in disgust and anger.
"Seemingly every election cycle the SVO is forced to issue an apology due to actions of its PAC," SPUR Director Teresa Alvarado said. "That will no longer be sufficient."
Tonkel, a self-described progressive, was pleased to see the community backlash.
"These things are all blatantly false, but, at the same time, the community has shown that they’re also smart, that they see multiple attack ads and they’re disgusted," he said.
Mahood released a statement Thursday, saying in part: "I have spent the last 9-plus years working hard to make San Jose a better place to live, work, play, raise a family and to run a business. Over that time, myself and the organization have achieved many of our goals – working collaboratively. ... But also, along the way, we have made some mistakes, and as CEO, I take full responsibility for those mistakes and missteps."
According to an SVO blog post Wednesday, the intent of the photo was to illustrate the consequence of cutting police budgets.
That's not how some people took it.
“Words and images are powerful, and they can be warped, and they can be deceptive. And the last thing I want is for people to be deceived into thinking that low-income families are going to hurt them or that Black people are dangerous,” said NAACP member Elizabeth Kamya.
The Silicon Valley NAACP had called for the immediate dismissal of Mahood.
On the SVO website, the entire staff page has been removed.
SVO issued an apology, saying, “We are horrified by this image as it does not represent the values of the organization, the leadership, the board of directors or our members. For that, we apologize.”
During an afternoon event Wednesday at City Hall, Moore also called on candidates who have received campaign contributions from the SVO to donate the funds. District 6 City Councilwoman Dev Davis, who is running against Tonkel, already handed over a check.
"Well, I hope when people are making their decision, they focus on the ideas, the qualifications and the experience of the candidates and don’t focus on the noise that is happening from outside groups," Davis said.
It's not the first time the SVO’s political action committee has been accused of racially insensitive tactics. In 2019, it sponsored a campaign aimed at two Latino politicians – and darkened their photos – again leading to calls of racism.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo issued a tweet denouncing this latest controversy and specifically mentioned Mahood.
Here's Mahood's statement in full:
"As President & CEO of the Silicon Valley Organization, the level of responsibility and accountability is extremely high. I have spent the last 9 plus years working hard to make San Jose a better place to live, work, play, raise a family and to run a business. Over that time, myself and the organization have achieved many of our goals – working collaboratively. I love my work, the people I work with, the SVO, the board of directors and our community.
"But also, along the way, we have made some mistakes, and as CEO, I take full responsibility for those mistakes and missteps. I am very sorry for the completely unacceptable image that was put up on our website earlier this week. That image and messaging DOES NOT represent who I am as a man, a father, a husband or community leader. The people who know me and work with me on a regular basis know that. And I also know that the image and messaging does NOT represent the values of our members or the SVO Board of Directors.
"Although the SVO internal investigation has not yet been conducted or concluded, I am confident that the results of the investigation will show a breakdown of internal process and control, and that I had no knowledge of the image’s posting on our website. And in fact, as soon as I was made aware that the webpage existed, I had it taken down immediately. The investigation will find that it was a horrible mistake made by someone on the SVO team – the team for whom I am ultimately responsible for.
"However, the events of the last few days make it clear to me that it is best for the Silicon Valley Organization, for me and our community that I resign from my position as President & CEO so that we may begin the process of healing, working together and breaking down the barriers and divisiveness that exists in our country and community."