The co-owner of Blackridge Strategy has cut ties with the PR firm months after it became entangled in a scandal involving fake websites that targeted two candidates in London’s 2018 municipal election.
Jake Skinner’s departure comes amid an OPP investigation into Blackridge’s involvement with the fake websites, along with a Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) probe into a code-of-conduct complaint lodged against Skinner, who serves as a trustee for the board.
Skinner told Global News he decided to depart from Blackridge on Jan. 3.
“I had hoped that there would be a resolution to the websites and the controversy surrounding that,” Skinner said. “It wasn’t my primary reason but definitely factored into my decision.
“I just felt that it was time to move on, start a new chapter and begin doing some consulting work on my own.”
The scandal first came to light during London’s 2018 municipal election when Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy and former councillor Virginia Ridley, both of whom were up for re-election at the time, voiced concern after the fake websites, made to look like their own, began targeting the candidates.
The website targeting Cassidy said she couldn’t be trusted, citing her high-profile affair with former mayor Matt Brown.
The website that targeted Ridley described her as a “colossal spendthrift” and “greedy.” It also accused her of child abuse for bringing her son to a lengthy budget meeting.
Skinner said he was not involved in creating the websites, adding that he did not know the name Barry Phillips until he saw it in the news. Phillips made headlines last June when he admitted to commissioning Blackridge to create the website that targeted Ridley.
“In terms of the website involving Maureen Cassidy, that’s something I advised against,” Skinner said.
Skinner said he was too busy to pay attention to the websites, adding that he was juggling Ed Holder’s mayoral campaign as well as a number of city council campaigns and trustee campaigns at the time.
“I don’t hold myself blameless because I was there, but that’s not where my attention was,” he said.
Skinner said he wants to apologize to Cassidy and Ridley over the ordeal.
“I want to do that properly and face to face, so I can offer my explanation. I think that’s something they deserve,” he said.
Along with the OPP investigation into Blackridge’s involvement with the fake websites, Skinner has also been caught up in a probe from the TVDSB following a code-of-conduct complaint lodged against the trustee.
“Having all these things follow me around… it did weigh down on me,” Skinner said, adding that he did not break TVDSB’s code of conduct.
Skinner said the past year had no impact on his relationship with Blackridge co-owner Amir Farahi.
“Amir’s a good friend, he’ll always be good friend,” Skinner said. “I think he understands that this is just how I feel.”
As for what’s next, Skinner said he has plans to doing his own consulting work and expects to work in political campaigns sometime in the future.