San Jose Councilwoman Sylvia Arenas Decries SVO PAC for Publishing ‘Racist Attack’ Ad

A darkened photo of San Jose Councilwoman Sylvia Arenas has been removed from a Silicon Valley Organization (SVO) PAC website after being denounced as a “racist attack.”

With California’s primary election just weeks away, the business organization’s political action committee has launched a website supporting the District 8 rep’s business-aligned opponent, Evergreen School District trustee Jim Zito.

The website—sylviaarenasselfservice.com—links to a recent Mercury News endorsement of Zito. Before public outcry prompted the SVO to remove them, two photos were featured as well, with a big green check mark next to one of Zito.

The photograph of Arenas, however, seemed visibly altered to make her skin look much darker than it actually is.

Arenas’s campaign decried the portrayal as racist. Her allies also noted that this wasn’t the first time SVO’s political advocacy arm was accused of stoking xenophobic sentiment against Latino candidates.

“We are shocked to learn that the SVO is again making ads that darken the skin tone of a Latino candidate, like they did against Sergio Jimenez in 2016,” Patrick McGarrity, a policy aide and campaign spokesman for Arenas, told reporters in a written statement. “This kind of insidious racism is designed to seep in and have its rhetorical effect, while protecting its practitioners from backlash. But it will not work. Evergreen and San Jose voters will not stand for these tactics any longer.”

Arenas’s campaign also called on Zito to “disavow the ad.”

In an interview, Zito called the photo “inappropriate.” He said he had no knowledge of the image before it was posted and that he’s glad it was taken down.

Jimenez, who endorsed Arenas’s re-election bid, told San Jose Inside that what the PAC did to them both was “inappropriate.” During his first run for office, the same group not only darkened a photo of him, but added police lights in the background.

“I think it’s unfortunate that folks stoop to that level and we need to do better than that,” he said. “Unfortunately, the SVO knows that there is a struggle to keep the majority on the council and they’ll do everything they need to do to get certain folks out of office.”

Eddie Truong, SVO’s director of government relations, chalked up the incident to an error by Chariot Campaigns, one of the PAC’s consultants. He said a “newsprint effect” was accidentally applied to the photo, which made Arenas appear unusually dark.

“We directed our consultant to use all photos of Sylvia Arenas in their normal format and without any alteration,” Truong offered by way of a written explanation. “Unfortunately, this was done for all photos except for one, which is the microsite. Once this issue was brought to our attention, we immediately corrected it.”

When asked if the PAC would sever ties with the consultant over the misstep, Truong said that’s unlikely because he believes it was an “isolated incident.”

San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP President Rev. Jethroe Moore III called the online ad “disturbing,” and criticized the SVO for deploying what he described as “Jim Crow era tactics.” He also urged Zito to return any funding he received from the PAC.

William Armaline, director of the Human Rights Program at San Jose State, described the photo-darkening tactic as a tired play out of the “right wing playbook.”

In fact, he said, it’s common enough to have a name: colorism.

“In a case like this, the idea would be [to] make sure people understand that [Arenas] is a Latinx woman,” he explained.

Anger over the ad extended beyond Arenas’s camp, making waves and social media and throughout the Evergreen community, which makes up most of District 8.

San Jose Unified School District trustee Brian Wheatley—who’s also president of the Evergreen Teacher’s Association and a labor-friendly ally of Arenas—called the manipulated image “abhorrent and unacceptable.”

“This is not who we should be and certainly not who we aspire to be here in Santa Clara County,” he said. “As a teacher, trustee, and human being, I reject this overt racism and demand an immediate retraction. Those responsible must be held accountable.”

The SVO PAC has faced blowback for more than the just the darkened images.

During the 2018 election, the committee sent out a mailer with a photo of District 9 council candidate Kalen Gallager that was cropped to make it look like he was flipping off the camera. At the time, Truong defended the mailer, but told San Jose Inside today that the SVO eventually fired the consultant that edited the photo.

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

13 Comments

  1. I guess CM Arenas has never taken a look at the ads her union friends run? Regardless of the pigmentation of the political opponent, it is quite routine for the makers of political ads to darken an opponent’s photo to make them appear sinister, untrustworthy, or less desirable – or they simply present an unflattering image (ala union-backed video of Rose Herrera in a bike helmet) – and to brighten the photo of the candidate that is being supported. It’s a stretch to assume that race was a factor here, given this was the only thing they did (there was no “too dangerous for San Jose” or some sort of racial dog whistle accompanying the photo, like the union ad run against Johnny Khamis when he was running for City Council the first time). Certain people, like the very ‘woke’ Brian Wheatly, along with certain members of San Jose City Council, seem compelled to divisively inject race into all aspects of life, like they did last year with the City budget.

  2. By all means, play the race card and practice identity politics when desperate. But it cuts both ways.

    Is blond Supervisor Ms. Cindy Potter a racist since she uses the name Chavez? Or is former mayor and marital cheater Ron Gonzales using a mariachi band when his Spanish is limited to Taco Bell’s menu?

    Or perhaps the electorate is homophobic since Ken Yeager didn’t make the cut to succeed Jim Beale.

    Our level of equality is about as good as it gets. Race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. don’t matter. The facts don’t support the claim.

  3. I’m feed up with the race card being pulled these days, first would be politician that pulls that card goes into the Dog Schitt Barrel. Doesn’t matter who they are or what they are I’m not tolerating this old warn out tactic any more.

    Pull it, your Schitt,
    Got it ?

  4. Desperate candidates do desperate things. CM Arenas should be ashamed of herself for making such a non issue into a race issue. Furthermore both San Jose Inside and San Jose Spotlight should equally be ashamed of themselves for posting such rubbish.

  5. Food for thought: Just wondering if the add would have portrayed her to be an even lighter skin Latina, would there have even been an issue? But to be portrayed just a tad darker skin is an insult? Seems that there is only one obvious racists person in this article; rethinking my vote and spreading the word. (proud to be a dark skin Latina)

    • > Just wondering if the add would have portrayed her to be an even lighter skin Latina, would there have even been an issue? But to be portrayed just a tad darker skin is an insult?

      The miserable clods who play the race card never seem to realize that THEY are making an unconscious presumption that there is SOME skin color that is the CORRECT skin color.

      Elizabeth Warren is TOO white.

      Sylvia Arenas was portrayed as TOO dark.

      We need to put the race mongers on the spot and get them to declare what is the correct skin color. It will make it much easier and more efficient to identify people who likely harbor racial resentment based on NOT being the right color.

      If I had to guess, I would say the the perfect, most politically correct skin color is Obama brown.

      If you don’t look like Obama, well . . . it would probably be a good idea for you to undergo counseling to deal with your resentments.

  6. They did the same thing in Santa Clara elections in 2016 showing minority candidates in same contrasts. I bet same people are behind this one too.

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