'We have a bully at City Hall.' Elk Grove mayoral candidate shares why she's running

Sacramento Bee, September 20,2020 By Marcos Breton

By far, the strangest, most divisive, most troubling local election in the region is the race for mayor of Elk Grove.

The incumbent, Steve Ly, was once known for his inspirational personal story:

First mayor of an American city of Hmong ancestry. His dad fought alongside American troops in the Vietnam War. His family, like so many Hmong families, was uprooted from the nation of Laos – because it rightly feared reprisals from its government for aiding the Americans.

I’ve been in Sacramento since 1989 and I remember the first waves of Hmong people coming to the capital region. In a generation, their children, such as Ly, have become educated and empowered.

But this is 2020, our nation and institutions are under siege, and Ly’s personal story has followed suit.

This young man has gone from inspirational to infamous. Basically every major elected official in the city of more than 170,000 residents has turned against the two-term mayor. The entire Elk Grove City Council has endorsed his main opponent, Bobbie Singh-Allen. His fellow council members also voted to have Ly investigated by the county grand jury.

Numerous women, including Singh-Allen, have spoken of being harassed by online trolls who support Ly.

“My life has been turned upside down because I stepped up to (run against Ly),” said Singh-Allen.

Singh-Allen, 49, is a member of the Elk Grove Unified School District board and was recruited by several local leaders, including Assemblyman Jim Cooper, to run against Ly.

LY’S APOLOGY

For his part, Ly has denied involvement in any online harassment of his political opponents. He apologized.

“They have spoken out about being harassed, intimidated, and bullied,” he said in a statement. “I believe them and acknowledge their pain. I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering they have endured.”

But here is the thing: His apology came late and after multiple women, including a former member of his staff, criticized him for not doing enough to stop the online trolling of women who opposed him politically.

When he did apologize, it was in a written statement. When he recently interviewed with The Sacramento Bee, Ly said he wasn’t in office to “make friends” and that he wasn’t responsible for what others did or did not do on his behalf.

It was weird. The issue shared by numerous women – Singh-Allen, a former Ly staffer, a member of the Cosumnes Services District Board, the editor of an Elk Grove community newspaper, a former opponent on the local school board, and others – seemed more like an annoyance to him than anything else. Instead of showing any kind of contrition – or just genuine emotion – his comments about serious allegations were rote and devoid of any feelings.

“We stand with the women,” said Fabrizio Sasso, executive director of the Sacramento Central Labor Council. “This is about Steve’s inability to be apologetic or to express some compassion for what these women went through. That runs counter to the values of labor.”

Consequently, the Central Labor Council rescinded its endorsement of Ly last month.

How much of this divisiveness will sway Elk Grove voters in a campaign compromised by a pandemic is anyone’s guess.

SINGH-ALLEN’S PATH

But what we can say is that this race has activated another female candidate in a region that needs more of them. And, it has activated a candidate from the Sikh community, another God Bless America story.

Singh-Allen’s family left the Punjabi region of India, where she was born, when she was 4.

Her family landed, first in Lodi, and then later in Livingston and Turlock. It helped the Sikh community build temples in Livingston and Turlock.

Singh-Allen eventually left home to attend Sacramento State. Sikh children are often expected to go into engineering or the sciences, to be doctors. Singh-Allen informed her parents that she was following a different path.

“It caused quite a rift when I said I wasn’t going to be a doctor,” said Singh-Allen. “I was a decent student but I excelled in history and civics.”

She was inspired by the late Joe Serna Jr., the former Sacramento mayor who was also a respected government instructor at Sacramento State for many years.

She earned a law degree. She has worked in government and legislative affairs for years. Her family moved to Elk Grove to be near her. Her brother became a well-known business owner in Elk Grove. The family became known in the community and has enriched it, just as immigrants have for generations before even that legacy was assaulted by today’s politics.

Before running for mayor, Singh-Allen visited schools to read anti-bullying books to small children – while dressed as Wonder Woman to show kids one can be strong and kind at the same time.

Now, at a fraught moment, in a fraught election, and in the nastiest local campaign around, Singh-Allen is making the same point to voters – one can be kind and strong at the same time.

“Our businesses are suffering,” she said. “That requires teamwork from a leader who wants to work with other people.”

A TALE OF TWO CANDIDATES

Another candidate, Brian Pastor, is also running for Elk Grove mayor, but most of the attention is focused on his two opponents. They offer a tale of two candidates, fundamentally different and similar at the same time. They have very different approaches, even though both represent immigrants who are new to America and have, in a generation, enriched our communities.

Ly is all on his own right now, everyone has turned against him. Singh-Allen has the community rallying around her. One says he is not in the business to make friends. The other wants to bring friends along for the betterment of her community,

In past years, predicting this race might have been easy, thinking that Ly is sunk because of all that has happened to him recently. And beyond the ugliness of this race, there is the beauty of American renewing itself through the hope of immigrants like the families of Ly and Singh-Allen.

But this is America of 2020. We are in a bad place. It’s tough to know what voters will make of them, their candidacies, and what should be the next step in their stories.