The Elk Grove Mayoral Debate was held on Thursday September 27 at Wackford Aquatic Complex from 6-9PM. Important to note, the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event and the staff of Elk Grove Citizen moderated it. Elk Grove Citizen owner Roy Herberger and Staff Writer Lance Armstrong asked the questions. Questions were generated by Elk Grove Citizen staff, the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce, as well as community members, who had the opportunity to submit questions.
This year the race to lead our city has become a fierce battle. Incumbent Mayor Steve Ly is facing tough challengers in Vice-Mayor Darren Suen and Community Activist Tracie Stafford. Mayor Ly was elected in 2016 and touted as the first Hmong mayor in the United States. Tracie Stafford ran for the position of Mayor of Elk Grove in 2016 as well. Darren Suen appears to have won key community endorsements over Steve Ly, including the support of all other City Council Members, the Elk Grove Police, and all five Planning Commissioners. Suen presents himself as the one with the requisite experience on the City Council, in land use, and with his background as a civil engineer. Stafford appears to be a grassroots candidate who is fighting to improve our city in specific ways such as improving housing affordability, improving access to public transit, and finding jobs and opportunities for our youth. As as a survivor of domestic abuse, she also has been candid about her own experiences with assault, and emerged as a local advocate of the me too movement across our nation.
In the previous Mayoral Town Hall Mayor Steve Ly caused a stir by saying “If you like me vote for me, if you don’t like me vote for the outsider and that’s Tracie.” The audience reacted in surprise and Stafford then capitalized on Ly’s statements.
Video Credit: Jackson Phan of Elk Grove Tribune & the Tracie Stafford for Mayor campaign.
**20 minutes of this video are credited to the Tracie Stafford For Mayor campaign who graciously helped us when we discovered a portion of our video was affected by a camera issue. The contents of this video are the property of the Elk Grove Tribune & Tracie Stafford for Mayor campaign.**
“My name is Darren Suen, and thank you all for coming here today. My Dad’s family settled in this area in the early 1920s. He went to Sac High. I grew up in South Sacramento and went to Kennedy High School. My wife and I were high school sweethearts. We’ve lived in southern California, the central coast, and the Bay area. We’ve been in Elk Grove now for nearly 18 years, and we’ve raised three beautiful kids here. I’ve coached soccer. I’ve taken them to wrestling matches, baseball games, basketball, swim meets, cross country meets. I’ve seen this area grow, and I see a lot of potential.
I’m now on my fourth year on the council, and I’m ready to guide this city. My focus is on community issues, like traffic, public safety, job creation. Our worsening traffic is a huge threat to our quality of life and we need experienced leadership to address it. Unintentionally, I’ve been training for this role nearly my whole life, starting with being voted the friendliest in my high school class, we just had out high school reunion last week and that’s why I’m still dwelling on it, to working as a civil engineer and project manager.
I know how to bring people together, build consensus, and move things forward. And others agree: I have been endorsed by our Elk Grove police officers association, our Sacramento area firefighters, the rest of my council colleagues, and all five planning commissioners. I’m the best trained candidate for this job, having worked professionally in the areas that cities work in: transportation, land use, flood risk. I’m ready to listen to you, and use my skill set to move this city forward. Thank you.”
“My name is Tracie Stafford and some of you may remember me from 2016 when I ran for office. I threw my hat into the ring three months before election day. And some of you are looking at me: you did what? Because it was a little insane. But I will explain to you, I did that, and ended up, of course, with no time, money, no team. But what I did have was a mission. And the mission was to bring awareness to the challenges that I believed Elk Grove was facing as citizens.
I focused on community first, meaning that we need focus on the people that live here versus focusing on those who are coming into Elk Grove. And if we would do that, we’d have quite a few amenities that we don’t have right now. Such as a hospital, such as a performing arts center, such as a downtown. Anyone who’s ever worked in economic development knows you cannot build a proper economic development plan without a town center, a vision, a focus, a brand, something that you are driving toward. So I focused on community first.
And I also focused on strategic growth, smart growth, and that’s one of the challenges that we also face here in Elk Grove. And as Darren mentioned earlier, our traffic absolutely is horrendous. But it’s important to remember that it’s horrendous by design. When the city plan was created back in 2003-2004, an environmental study was done that actually came back and said that the infrastructure could not support the city plan as it was designed then. But we did a statement of override, meaning we understand that the traffic will be bad, but we’re still going to move forward anyway. Traffic is bad by design. So it’s important to know that.
And here I am, again, two years later. with the same platform, the same issues, because nothing has changed. If we want change, we need to do something different. We know the definition of insanity. We don’t do that anymore. Thank you.”
“My name is Steve Ly and I’m the city mayor. Thank you for taking the time to come out to enjoy us and the unraveling of what it takes to be a candidate for city mayor. My story really extends back about 40 years. 40 years ago, I came to this country as a 4 year old refugee. The reason why I tell that story is because it is so important to what being an American is. My father’s job was to rescue American pilots during the Vietnam War, and that’s what earned my family amnesty here to the United States.
I’ve been blessed and privileged to have an opportunity to participate in a free, public education. I went to UC Davis, graduated from UC Davis, and continued on to law school. With all of these wonderful skills that I learned in education, what really became special to me, and had some meaning to me, was when I decided to run for public office. Many of you know me as a former school board member. I sat on the school board at EGUSD. I came onto the city council as a councilman. I then was the appointed vice mayor, and then was elected in 2016.
Since jumping into public service, it certainly wasn’t unique onto itself. The work that I’ve done extends many years before as an activist. An activist going to the community and trying to find out the needs of the community, and then approaching the electeds, then approaching those people in power. What transitioned over is when I became frustrated, and realized that as an activist, you can only ask so much, and beg so much. To the point, where you say “Hey enough is a enough.”
I need to be in a position where I can proactively program money into things that have meaning to the city. So since then I’ve been in public service. This is my 6th year and I’ve enjoyed it. Hopefully, I’ll earn your vote tonight. Thank you.”
The first mayoral candidate to answer the question is in brackets.
1. What will your strategy be to lure corporate businesses to Elk Grove? (Suen)
2. What do you think of expanding the sphere of influence in terms of expanding the city beyond the southern borders? (Stafford)
3. Do you support project labor agreements also known as community workforce development agreements? (Ly)
4. The mayor is the financial and social leader of the city. Have you demonstrated financial competency in your personal and professional life? (Suen)
5. Please explain your views on non-vehicular transport, active transportation in our city, especially in out built out areas. (Stafford)
6. The office of mayor is non-partisan. What are your thoughts on politics entering Elk Grove? (Ly)
7. Do you support Prop 6 gax tax repeal? How could you close the gap? (Suen)
8. A thriving local economy is fundamental. How specifically have you contributed to the Elk Grove economy and what what have you done to help Elk Grove thrive? (Stafford)
9. Recall that the Mayor and Council adopted the goal of raising the sales tax. Do you still support the goal of raising the sales tax? (Ly)
10. Should the city continue to build a sports complex or should this be put to another use? (Suen)
11. Can you work diligently and prudently with your fellow council members? Give an example of situations where you work with people who have different opinions. (Stafford)
12. What qualities do you see in Elk Grove’s future City Manager? (Ly)
Question 3 asked if candidates support project labor agreements also known as community workforce development agreements and asked them to explain their position.
Mayor Ly is in favor of some form of community workforce development agreements. “So what I have been pushing in City Council is a workforce training agreement. It works by specifically providing opportunities for young people, veterans who are coming from the battlefield, and people who are changing careers, or people who don’t have jobs and are looking for opportunities to train. Yes, I am in support of a training agreement so we can work with the trades.” Ly clearly sees community workforce development agreements as beneficial to Elk Grove’s economy. “I’m talking about training programs, I’m talking leveraging the public’s money, I’m talking local hires, I’m talking about monitoring OHS, so we can be effective in the use of the public’s money.”
Vice-Mayor Darren Suen recently pointed out in a contentious City Council meeting that the City of Sacramento approved a project labor agreement, but it took a year talks to hammer it out. In the previous City Council meeting Mayor Ly had attempted to set a timeframe but received push back from the other members of the Council who pointed out that the idea hadn’t been fully flushed out in ad hoc committees.
Suen’s response to the idea of project labor agreements was cautious. “For myself, I need to learn more about this issue, and it’s taken me time. And what I found is that for public works projects, where we spend government dollars, I want to ensure that that person is getting paid what they should get paid, that is, ensuring no misclassification of wages.”
Mayoral candidate Tracie Stafford was absolutely in favor of project labor agreements. “I am in support of project labor agreements, and I will tell you the reason why I am in support of them. It does allow for that negotiation for people to come to the table and actually look at the private sector or the public sector, how can we work together. We actually identify and make decisions about where and how they are trained, who actually will be hired in terms of putting a requirement on using Elk Grove labor, so I am absolutely in support.”
Question 4 indicated that the Mayor of Elk Grove is the financial and social leader of the city and asked candidates whether they demonstrated financial competency in their personal and professional life.
Vice-Mayor Darren Suen cited specific examples from his own personal and professional life. “Yes, obviously we all have personal finances that I manage all the time. I got three kids I’m trying to put through college one day.” He also talked about his private sector background. “Professionally, I used to run pro formas for doing land acquisitions. And as part of working in the private sector, always running feasibility studies for acquisition projects and working on infrastructure finance agreements for community facilities districts, so I do have an abundant amount personal and professional experience in finances.”
Stafford cited her background as a small business owner and reflected on difficulties including being audited. “Yes, I worked my way up from data entry up to senior management in high tech over many, many years, so I learned from the bottom up how to deal with finances.” Stafford indicated that “I’m a competent fiscal manager, and a being an entrepreneur took me to the next level.”
Mayor Ly cited his experience on the Elk Grove Unified School District Board as well as his experience on the City Council and as Mayor of Elk Grove. “Any time I’ve sat on the board, and those aren’t exclusive, we’ve managed to balance the budget and we’ve managed to have a surplus.”
Question 6 mentioned that the office of the Mayor of Elk Grove is non-partisan and asked “What are your thoughts on politics entering Elk Grove?” It should be noted that all three Elk Grove mayoral candidates are Democrats.
Mayor Steve Ly answered the question first. Ly emphasized that the position of Mayor of Elk Grove is non-partisan. “This is a non-partisan office. It shouldn’t be partisan. What’s frustrating is that things that have meaning to the people are being blocked because they are partisan. Every action that I make, every action that I do is in support of the people.”
Vice-Mayor Darren Suen indicated that he had support from both Democrats and Republicans, including the rest of the City Council aside from Mayor Ly. “Nobody from my campaign will talk about the Democratic choice or the Republican choice. I don’t know that other campaigns can say the same.” It should be noted that Steve Detrick and Pat Hume are Republicans that Suen supports. Suen has taken some heat for supporting City Council Members who are Republican. Suen finished by denouncing partisan politics. “Partisan politics is so divisive today. It has no place in this city.”
Mayoral Candidate Tracie Stafford agreed that the position of Mayor of Elk Grove is non-partisan. Her words seemed to indicate that the position of Mayor of Elk Grove serves all people, regardless of political party. “I believe that all political offices are non-partisan because ultimately regardless of what your political affiliation is, you’re governing for everyone.”
Question 11 was arguably one of the most loaded questions of the evening. It asked each candidate if they could work diligently and prudently with fellow council members and to give examples of situations where they had to work people who have different opinions.
Mayoral Candidate Tracie Stafford mentioned her background in data entry, in senior management in high tech, as a small business owner, and sitting on several boards. She emphasized that she has ability to go in and see all sides. “The focus is always at least for me on the greater good, who needs what, what are we trying to, what are we coming together to achieve. And not only trying to figure out what you’re trying to achieve but trying to figuring out what every person in that room is trying to achieve.” Stafford cited as an example a time where she worked with people of different ethnicities, where each ethnicity was trying to achieve something different, in a non-profit setting.
Mayor Steve Ly was direct in his response. “Yes, I can and I’ll give you an example. If you look at the voting records of the City of Elk Grove, probably about 97% are unanimous on all issues. Do you know why? Because if it benefits the community and each of us can articulate why it benefits the community then it makes logical sense. ” However, after Mayor Ly said this, he then said “I get into it with the guys, but the moment we walk away from the Council we have to be professional.” He then made a surprising statement. “I think it would be concerning to a voter, to a constituent to see Council Members get along all the time. Who’s doing the thinking?”
Vice-Mayor Darren Suen indicated that “I can tell you I’ve only ever had drinks, or coffee, or lunch with three other members on this Council, and they are all sitting in this audience. ” He indicated that the other City Council Members all support him. Clearly, Suen was implying that Mayor Ly had not met up with him and that there was a reason that the other members of the City Council support him and not Ly. It should be noted that a bit later, Mayor Ly mentioned specific times where he had met up with Suen and indicated that he must have forgotten. Ly’s statements seemed to try to say that all City Council Members get along and maintain a professional relationship. Suen’s statements highlighted the divide between Ly and the rest of the City Council.
Project labor agreements or community workforce development agreements, city finances and our economy, the growth of the City of Elk Grove, and getting along with others on the Elk Grove City Council seem to be issues which are of primary concern to citizens of Elk Grove. The Elk Grove Mayoral debate highlighted many of our city’s issues as well as current tensions on the City Council and in our community. Our community is obviously still healing from the aftermath of racial tensions last year when a racist note was left at DreamGirls Salon and when a number incidents which occurred in Elk Grove Schools which prompted them to be brought up in Elk Grove Unified School District board meetings. We still strive for unity as the growth of our city surges and as development plans such as the new Civic Center rapidly unfold. As we get closer to November, the Elk Grove Tribune will continue to keep you informed with the latest election updates and we will continue coverage about the development of our community.