SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - The CEO of Silicon Valley’s largest chamber of commerce resigned Thursday after the group’s political arm posted an ad that the organization’s own executive board of directors labeled as racist.
Matt Mahood stepped down as president and chief executive of the Silicon Valley Organization “so that we may begin the process of healing,” he said in statement.
The SVO is an influential business advocacy group in California’s high-tech heartland. The organization has 1,200 business members that employ 300,000 people.
The ad, paid for by the SVO Political Action Committee, was posted earlier this week on the PAC’s website. It contained a 2018 photo of a group of Black men in a South African street near a cloud of tear gas and a line that read: “Do you really want to sign onto this?” the San Jose Mercury News reported.
The ad was an attack on Jake Tonkel, a San Jose City Council candidate who is trying to unseat Dev Davis.
The Mercury News said an SVO statement issued Tuesday said the ad was intended “to demonstrate the consequences of cutting the police budget by 80%,” which the organization falsely claimed Tonkel favored.
Tonkel, who is white, had taken part in protests last summer following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and has called for police reforms but he hasn’t advocated an 80% budget cut for the force.
On Wednesday, SVO’s executive board denounced the ad as “blatantly racist” and said it was suspending campaign efforts, placing Mahood on administrative leave and starting an independent investigation.
In his statement, Mahood said he had no knowledge of the ad and ordered it taken down when he became aware of it.
“We have made some mistakes, and as a CEO, I take full responsibility,” he said.
The Mercury News said dozens of members and some board members are cutting ties to the group. They include Valley Water, which has been a member for 44 years.
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