Racist campaign hits are not new in San Jose politics, and it’s good to see that the Silicon Valley Organization PAC’s blatantly racist use of photograph was quickly condemned by fellow business organizations as well as the SVO-supported city council candidate, Dev Davis, who donated her SVO contribution to the NAACP.
The SVO apologized in a very public reckoning and placed its CEO Matt Mahood on leave; by week’s end, he resigned.
The SVO’s political opponents on the labor side were quick to pile on and attack the SVO, staging a follow-on press conference. All that chest puffing and self righteousness isn’t fully warranted, however, given the local labor political machine’s own past activities.
In 1998, Tony West, a Harvard-educated African-American attorney raised in San Jose and who’s married to Kamala Harris’ sister, ran for San Jose City Council. He was defeated by then South Bay Labor Council’s political director, Cindy Chavez.
Two years later, West ran against another labor-backed candidate, Manny Diaz, and lost after a racist mailer cast him as an “Oakland Raider.” West’s pummeling was a bigger loss for the region than for him, as he went on to become Associate Attorney General in the Obama administration, and then chief counsel for Pepsi and Uber. He’ll be on the short list to replace Attorney General William Barr if Joe Biden wins.
The Raider mailer was traced to Darren Seaton, a former aide to Mayor Susan Hammer and political consultant to labor-aligned candidates. He’s now a nonprofit executive for Sacred Heart Community Service.
No apologies or repentance followed. In fact, it was viewed as so successful that Seaton reprised the same strategy to elect Nancy Pyle over Richard de la Rosa in 2004, darkening de la Rosa’s face and casting him as a candidate from the “East Side.”
Pyle spokesperson Ana Maria Rosato was unapologetic in contending that the portrayal of De La Rosa was “100 percent, absolutely accurate ... and provable.”
“It was a great piece,” she added.
The stone-throwing by glass house residents no doubt bears some sincere component of social justice idealism, but without acknowledging the local progressive movement’s own sordid past, it could be dismissed as election eve faux moral outrage.
The SVO’s use of imagery to cast racial minorities as dangerous to win elections is the same strategy that Labor Council endorsees deployed to secure public office.
The only difference this time is that the SVO assumed institutional responsibility, quickly apologized and dumped its leader.
The other side has had two decades to do so, and never did.
Dan Pulcrano is the executive editor and CEO of Metro Silicon Valley.