By Eli Wolfe
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s secretive advocacy organization has hired a PR firm linked to a racist ad that toppled a business group’s political action committee.
Liccardo’s group—Solutions San Jose—is working with Storefront Political Media, a San Francisco PR firm linked to a racist ad in a local City Council race last fall, San José Spotlight has learned. Storefront Political Media is handling social media for the mayor’s group.
Katie Scally, a former account executive with Storefront Political Media, is the chief executive officer of Solutions San Jose, according to May filings with the California Secretary of State. Liccardo is listed as secretary and Chris Roth, a former candidate for the District 6 seat on the San Jose City Council, is chief financial officer.
Liccardo has close ties to Storefront, which ran his mayoral campaigns, and its CEO Eric Jaye is one of his advisors. Scally previously worked as a policy staffer for Liccardo and served on his campaign team.
Cassandra Matter, executive director of Solutions San Jose, told San José Spotlight that Scally is a member of Solutions San Jose’s board of directors as are Liccardo and Roth. Matter would not provide a full list of board members. She said in an email that Storefront is serving as its “media consulting partner.”
Storefront Political Media is linked to a racist campaign ad posted in October by the Silicon Valley Organization, the area’s largest chamber of commerce. The ad showed Black men in the streets, surrounded by tear gas, with a message that read “Do you really want to sign on to this?” referring to council candidate Jake Tonkel’s stance on police reform.
The SVO initially refused to say who was responsible for the racist ad. Weeks after a San José Spotlight article linked Storefront Political Media to the ad through public campaign disclosures, the business group released an investigative report that partially blamed Storefront Political Media. Scally had denied any involvement.
“We are honored that this extraordinary young Latina and daughter of San Jose is volunteering her help,” Matter said. “Mayor Liccardo is one of our key stakeholders and we seek his advice regularly.”
Storefront, which specializes in media consulting and community organizing, manages the Facebook account for Solutions San Jose, according to the group’s Facebook page.
Jaye, Storefront’s CEO, told San José Spotlight in an email that his firm is working with Solutions San Jose to help build a community of Silicon Valley residents finding “common-sense solutions” to challenges such as homelessness and safely reopening schools. It’s the same vague messaging from Liccardo when he was asked about his advocacy group’s purpose in February.
Jaye confirmed Scally left Storefront and now works for Solutions San Jose.
“She is one of the most talented political organizers we’ve ever worked with at our firm,” he said.
Roth, on the other hand, told San José Spotlight that while he is listed as CFO on public documents, he does not have operational oversight of the organization. He confirmed his position on the board of Solutions San Jose and said he serves as an unpaid policy advisor.
“My role has been really minimal,” Roth said, adding that he mainly offers guidance to Matter on specific public policy issues such as housing. “The mayor asked me to come on board and join a very ground-floor level team as this organization continues to grow.”
Scally did not respond to immediate requests for comment.
The connection between Solutions San Jose and Storefront Political Media comes as new questions surface about the advocacy group’s purpose and intentions, especially as it lobbies for public policies and uses Liccardo’s name and title in its communications.
The city stonewalled San José Spotlight’s public records request for emails and texts from Liccardo and his chief of staff, Jim Reed, related to Solutions San Jose. The city refused to release the emails, citing attorney-client privilege.
After San José Spotlight appealed the decision, the city agreed to conduct a second search of records related to the advocacy organization and provide a log explaining why certain emails were being withheld.
Meanwhile, the mayor’s office won’t say much else about what Liccardo’s role is. Rachel Davis, the mayor’s spokeswoman, told San José Spotlight that questions about Solutions San Jose and Storefront are outside of her jurisdiction.
“Since this isn’t a city matter and the organizations mentioned in your questions (Storefront and Solutions San Jose) aren’t city related, you’ll have to work with them to secure answers about their workings,” Davis said in an email.
Liccardo previously told San José Spotlight that his group aims to “unite San Jose residents around common sense solutions.” On its website, Solutions San Jose has petitions visitors can sign to demand the reopening of schools and to protest water rate hikes. It also hosted two public forums on housing policy, featuring Liccardo and the city’s housing director, Jacky Morales-Ferrand.
The group appeared to use the same address on The Alameda that housed Liccardo’s campaign headquarters and solicits donations using ActBlue, a Democratic fundraising software. The donations help “support an ongoing forum for respectful policy discussions and comprehensive solutions to the challenges facing every neighborhood in San Jose,” according to its website.
Liccardo seems to play an active role in promoting various policy initiatives. His name has been used in at least two mass emails related to reopening schools.
Roth said he couldn’t speak to how Solutions San Jose is funded, but he noted that Liccardo is a prolific fundraiser.
“If it wasn’t for his contacts and relationships over the years,” Roth said, “this organization wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.”
Contact Eli Wolfe at email@example.com or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.
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This article was originally published by The San José Spotlight.