Op-Ed: The SVO is a Failed Chamber of Commerce for Today’s Silicon Valley

As a Latino community leader, I’m deeply disturbed by the  Silicon Valley Organization’s growing trend in weaponizing identities of people of color against candidates they oppose. Their recent usage of a black-and-white image of Black people apparently at a riot in South Africa to imply that a vote for San Jose City Council District 6 candidate, Jake Tonkel, could lead to riots locally, is more than just anti-Black and racist.

It is about an organization that veils its prejudice under the banner of “business interests” and uses racist tropes as campaign tactics to stoke fear among white moderate to conservative voters. The SVO uses these tactics to support candidates for public office that they can then rely on to vote for policy positions that in turn negatively affect the livelihood and well-being of low-income people and people of color.

This includes voting on a host of policy issues ranging from affordable housing, public safety, educational equity, workforce standards, public health and more. If a business treated customers of color the way the SVO advocates for policies that run counter to the equitable treatment of people of color, it would’ve been out of business in an instant.

Over the past 10 years, the SVO has successfully helped elect a number of candidates—Republicans and Democrats alike—the majority of whom are white and lean moderate-to-conservative, which is reflected in their voting records.

The SVO endorsed and supported two Republican candidates that ran against a Latina, Sylvia Arenas, and a Latino, Sergio Jimenez, both of whom now serve on the San Jose City Council. In both instances, the SVO used altered and darkened images of the now council members in campaign materials that sparked community outcry.

Though the SVO denounced and apologized for the altered images that darkened the council members’ complexions, the organization and its leadership never really assumed accountability for its anti-Latino/a actions deflecting responsibility and blaming campaign consultants instead.

In this most recent case, the SVO is shifting blame to its consultant, San Francisco-based Storefront Political Media headed by its Principal Eric Jay. While things seem different this time around, given that SVO President Matt Mahood was placed on administrative leave and then resigned, the problem of racism within the organization runs deeper than its main head.

We should be wary that Mahood was scapegoated by an organization that will protect its PAC members, its vice president and its political staff at all costs. Not to mention, its protection of individuals and organizations, like the mayor and the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, who have been complicit and embedded in these attacks—even raising money for the SVO PAC.

More than one person at the SVO and its political action committee arm thought using these images was a good idea.

It is clear that the SVO is an organization Machiavellian in nature—win at all cost and protect your own at all costs, even if it means stoking racial fears to do so.

In this day and age, within the diverse region we live in, and in the context of a national racial justice movement, it is simply unacceptable that some within the SVO—not just Mahood—thought it was appropriate to move in this direction.

It will take more than public apologies and diversity, equity and inclusion trainings for the SVO staff and board of directors to mend the trust broken among communities of color, communities who support businesses through their patronage.

The SVO should no longer be entrusted to be the voice of the business community in Silicon Valley. It should be dismantled. We can start by rebuilding its entire board of directors and inviting small-business owners of color to the table.

The SVO’s current board of directors is predominantly composed of representatives who are white, male and represent the interests of big business stakeholders.

Until a chamber of commerce that truly represents and upholds the diversity of Silicon Valley’s business community is built, all current and past SVO-endorsed candidates—including San Jose council members Johnny Khamis, Chappie Jones, Pam Foley and Lan Diep—should publicly denounce the organization’s racist tactics, rescind their endorsement and return contributions from them.

To not do so would be to condone and be complicit with this type of racist behavior.

And it’s not just these San Jose council members and other lawmakers who’ve benefited from the SVO and its support that need to speak out against these racist acts. It is SVO PAC donors—both individuals and businesses alike—that have enabled the organization to fund these campaigns in the first place.

This includes big business contributors like PG&E, Comcast, the Sobrato Organization, Berry Swenson Builder and various commercial property developers and smaller businesses like Republic Properties, Airfield Supply, Crema Coffee Shop and San Jose Water Company, just to name a few.

They too need to speak out and commit to investing in community-based organizations that work with low-income communities and communities of color.

All voters, not just voters of color, should deliver the one message SVO will understand: defeat all of their endorsed candidates at the ballot box on Tuesday, Election Day.

Half of the ballots are still out. There is time to turn the tide back in favor of justice and equity and in support of people of color.

Mario B. Lopez is a community advocate having supported progressive causes and candidates who champion diversity, equity, and inclusion. He previously served as Chapter Director for the New Leaders Council of Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].


  1. I’d like to point out that Mario says a majority of who the SVO supports are white males, but times are changing. Not one of their endorsed current Councilmember’s is a white male. Why not support who someone feels is best for the job and leave race out of it? Why does race so often have to come into this?

    Their history recent is checkered in attack ads, but why? We’re any of the ads actually racist? Is our city so quick to gather heads that they don’t actually think of political strategy? Darkening a photo is a long tried and true way to make someone look sinister, the opponent happened to be of a different race, but does the race matter? To me, no it doesn’t. I don’t see racism there because it’s just a person who they oppose. In politics, as with business, you want the right person for the job.

    Our city has become to sensitive and seems to think everything is racial. It isn’t. Many people like me don’t care about a persons race. Many care about who a person is, their beliefs, integrity and how they act or experience. That is what qualifies people for positions. Has a business owner said “this person will make my company the most money, but I can’t hire them because of their race”? Probably, but not here in the last 50 years I’ve been alive. Now people are unqualified getting jobs because of race, sex etc. and it is putting unqualified people in jobs they didn’t earn.

    This crap should stop because it’s negatively impacting our growth. Separation divides

  2. Mario, you said you are a Latino leader, but I have never heard your name. Dime cariño que te hace un líder Latino? The ad in question has no other justification than what really is, A RACIST tactic. The language you used Mario is divisive too because you are generalizing all white people and implying any white person is not worth of being a leader. Latin America is full of ratas and United States too. It is about selecting and voting for individuals that truly care about the people not title, social status, and power. Those individuals are in every ethnic group; the same is true for the corrupted ones! Cual eres tu Mario? Porque yo de lengua repito plato! I hope you understand these Latino sayings and how they may apply to you! Hola a todos! Yo soy la Madre Teresa de Calcuta alías La FEXXNIST

  3. Mario, I just googled your name. You work for Dollar Dave Cortese! Que risa ? me das! Madura papacito y a otro perro con ese hueso!

  4. “All voters, not just voters of color, should deliver the one message SVO will understand: defeat all of their endorsed candidates at the ballot box on Tuesday, Election Day.

    Half of the ballots are still out. There is time to turn the tide back in favor of justice and equity and in support of people of color.”

    D4: Asian Male (incumbent)
    D6: Woman (incumbent)
    STATE SENATE: Woman (non-politician)

    Mario’s Choice:
    D4: White Dude
    D6: White Dude (no elected experience)
    STATE SENATE: White Dude (lifetime politician)

  5. “As a Latino community leader” Wow… full of it are we? How are you a leader in the latino community when no ones knows you? What have you done for the LatinX community? Great article and its true what SVO did was wrong, but don’t be claiming things like leader of a community that knows nothing of you. You sound privileged and ignorant just as the people running SVO.

  6. Mario Lopez correctly notes that, when it plays to its advantage, the Silicon Valley Organization (SVO) has resorted used racialized messaging either in support of its endorsed candidates or to attack disfavored candidates for elected office. But as other commentators above note, it is not correct to say the SVO has not supported candidates of color including Len Diep, Madison Ngyuen and Johnny Khamis (who is Arab-American), for starters. The litmus test for the SVO, and other business organizations, is a candidate’s associations with, and allegiances to, business and business owners. The important thing is that candidates and politicians support the prerogatives of businesses first, above all else. The SVO is quite happy, even eager, to support people of color who are “on board” and “on the same page,” as they say.

    There is no one-to-one relationship between racial/ethnic identity and political perspective. Rather, the lines of demarcation within and between racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. largely, but not exclusively, center on income and social class. Condoleeza Rice and Angela Davis are both Black public intellectuals originally from Birmingham, Alabama. Do their identities or outward appearances tell me which one was a main architect of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 (and, therefore, a war criminal) and which one has actively opposed U.S. imperialism nearly all of her adult life? Charles Schumer and Bernie Sanders are both Jewish U.S. senators originally from Brooklyn. Which one has served as a de facto representative of Wall Street banks in the U.S. Senate for decades and which one has fought in the Senate to break up and tax those banks and prosecute bank executives who crashed the financial system in 2008?

    Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein are both White urban professional women from Chicago who each attended an Ivy League university and ran for president in 2016. Can you tell me by looking at them which one stands for the interests of wealthy elites and an aggressive U.S. foreign policy vis-a-vis Iran, Syria, Venezuela and Russia and which fights for a wealth tax, a vastly smaller military budget and a Green New Deal? Henry Cuellar and Raul Grijalva or both Mexican-American Democratic members of the U.S. congress from Southwestern states. Which one is supported by the Koch brother billionaires for his support of fossil fuel interests and opposition to a Green New Deal and Medicare for All and which one is a leading progressive whose positions are diametrically opposite positions?

    Each pairing evinces opposing sides of an income or class divide where race/ethnicity are the same. Supporting or opposing one or the other in any of the above pairings is a political/moral choice. This is what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us. He learned over time, as did Malcolm X after his return from hajj in Mecca, that people should be judged on the basis of the content of their character, that is, their values, principles and beliefs–not the color of their skin nor the identity they choose for themselves.

    The SVO endorses candidates according to its pecuniary value system, regardless of race or ethnicity. We should do the same according to beliefs and values that put everyday people’s well-being, interests and dignity above all else.

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