Contested San Jose Group Appoints New Interim CEO and Accuses Storefront Political Media

Just over a month after the Silicon Valley Organization posted a racist image on its website – which led to the overthrow of its former CEO Matt Mahood – the corporate organization has a new leader at the helm.

At least for now.

The SVO representatives announced on Wednesday that Robert Linscheid will act as interim president and CEO. According to a press release, most recently by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Linscheid has more than 15 years of experience as CEO of various chambers.

Robert Linscheid is the new interim president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Organization. Image courtesy of LinkedIn.

“Robert brings a wealth of legal, community engagement and strategic planning experience to the role,” said a statement from SVO.

SVO officials also released a new statement regarding an investigation into the racist campaign ad on their website – although they still did not hold anyone directly responsible. However, the group said Storefront Political Media was “an integral part in creating the PAC campaign ads and images”.

“We no longer work with the consultancy Storefront Political Media, which was instrumental in creating the ads and images for PAC campaigns,” the statement said.

Storefront Political Media is the political advisory firm widely used by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. One of his former associates, Katie Scally, told San José Spotlight in October that the group was not part of the campaign image.

“We neither saw nor posted the image, which rightly sparked outrage this week, on the SVO website,” Scally, now Account Executive at Storefront Political Media, told San Jose Spotlight. “Especially as a woman of color, I found the picture profoundly offensive.”

The picture, released on October 27th, showed black people on the streets surrounded by tear gas saying “Are you sure you want to sign up?” printed below. The ad was intended to attack the stance of progressive San Jose City Council candidate Jake Tonkel on police reform.

That picture on the Silicon Valley Organization’s website caused an outcry.

Campaign financial reports show that Storefront Political Media received more than $ 134,000 for campaign mail and digital ad design against Tonkel and District 4 Councilor David Cohen from September 20 to October 17.

The group saw immediate and widespread effects. Mahood was taken on administrative leave and resigned two days later. Prominent board members and loyalists, including Joshua Howard and Jeanne Serpa, split up.

Influential companies and nonprofits have canceled their membership. Legislators denounced the SVO and councilor Dev Davis, who were challenged by Tonkel and approved by the SVO. She was ashamed of her support and donated the organization’s campaign contributions to the NAACP. The group’s PAC, which is responsible for political activities, has been dissolved.

SVO officials quickly blamed a “web administrator” for the post, but declined to name the company or person. Less than two weeks after the picture was posted, a third-party investigator said the group had “no intention of causing harm” but disclosed little or no details about how the picture was published.

Although Storefront Political Media’s involvement has now been pinpointed, the group said the investigation “found that no single person was responsible for the ads”.

“The PAC worked largely independently with little control and guidance from the SVO board and management,” the statement said. “As such, their activities operated outside of clearly defined SVO policies and procedures. Employees were not adequately trained, did not adhere to SVO policies and procedures, and received no effective project monitoring. “

The statement said, “There is no excuse to incite fear and division in our community.” The most recent ads were not isolated and “PAC ads have a pattern of insensitivity.”

In February, the group of companies darkened the face of Sylvia Arenas, a councilor for San Jose, in an advertising campaign labeled as racist. It blamed a campaign advisor – Chariot Campaigns – for the ad, but continued to work with the advisor on future campaigns.

The group faced similar allegations in 2016 when they blacked out a picture of councilor Sergio Jimenez and treated a picture of councilor Kalen Gallagher in 2018 to look like he was turning off the camera.

The SVO also announced that it would hold listening sessions to “improve their sensitivity” and become more involved with the community. In the past few weeks she had set up a diversity workgroup of ethnic leaders to steer these changes, but was having trouble recruiting people to advocate it.

Prior to his work in San Francisco, Linscheid was the managing director of Innovate North State, a regional innovation catalyst organization, according to LinkedIn. He is also a Senior Advisor in the Office of the President of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and was a past Chairman of the Board of Trustees of California State University.

This story will be updated.

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