By Robert Haugh
This year, the Santa Clara Chamber won’t hold its annual Outlook Event and “state of the city.” We’re not surprised. Last year, we reported that the event was a bust.
Few people attended if you take out a couple tables of city staff. And Mayor Lisa Gillmor snubbed the Chamber by declining to attend. Instead, then-Vice Mayor Dominic Caserta gave a less than stellar speech.
A few months later, the Chamber’s president and CEO, Chris Horton, was let go suddenly. There wasn’t even a public announcement. Nick Kaspar currently serves as interim director. But he may be the captain of a sinking ship.
But it’s not Kaspar’s fault. The Chamber boat has been taking on water for a couple years. In 2016, the Chamber PAC, which though isn’t an “official” part of the Chamber, is very much affiliated with the Chamber, made a lot of bonehead moves. They opposed incumbent council members who went on to win by huge margins.
They may be shooting themselves in the feet again. As we reported last summer, Chamber PAC member Andy Ratermann told a reliable source about a meeting with a political consulting firm, Clifford Moss, to lay the groundwork to run a slate of candidates for city council in 2018 and to recruit a challenger to Gillmor who is up for re-election.
Also in 2017, the Silicon Valley Organization (formerly the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce) started actively signing up Santa Clara businesses.
Caserta introduced the SVO to city staff and tried to line up money for them. They clearly saw an opportunity. Or smelled the Santa Clara Chamber’s blood in the water.
We’re also hearing a lot of rumblings these days in City Hall about the Chamber’s management of the Convention Center. No one seems to know why they got a huge increase in their management fee last year. Or what they actually do for the fee.
So it might be a good thing that the Chamber canceled its Outlook Event. They didn’t run it very well. But these days, people are adding up the Chamber’s screw-ups and asking a more important question: what does the Chamber do well?