Op-Ed: Mayor Steve Ly Sent Hmong Men To Threaten Me Into Silence
On June 2, 2020, Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly wrote a post on his social media in which he prematurely alleged that a local fire that destroyed a Hmong family business was started by protestors. The family communicated on their GoFundMe page that “At this time, we do not know the cause of the fire so please refrain from making assumptions.” A commenter responded to his post with: “For the past 72 hours, the conversation around “destruction” has been directly tied to the protest. Be careful not to tie this incident to the larger movement for Black Lives.” This was Ly’s opportunity to act like a real leader to acknowledge his mistake, apologize, and correct his allegations. Instead, he deleted his post in all of his social media accounts in a shameful attempt to bury it or what public figures do when they are in hot water: “Damage Control”. He took no accountability of how dangerous his statements were to Black lives, given his position, his platform, and the current socio political climate. An offer was made to “call-in” Ly for a private conversation, but at the time of this article being written, he has not responded.
I worked as Ly’s campaign manager during his first mayoral race in 2016. I left my job to take on this 3.5-month contract because I was excited to help Ly become the first Mayor of Hmong descent in the United States and it was a great opportunity to network. During that short time, I learned so much about him: his fragileness, his petty tactics, his big ego, and his dream to become a California Governor. Ly’s two rules were: (1) Always make me look good, and (2) Just say what they want to hear. I’ve worked with Ly enough to know that his deleted post is the most authentic representation of himself. The subsequent posts regarding diversity pledges and supporting Black Lives Matter are strategic political moves to maintain his faux image as the only “progressive Democrat” on the Elk Grove City Council. If Black Lives did really matter to Ly then he would have acknowledged his mistake, made the correction, apologized, and publicly shared his support for the Black Lives Matter movement on June 2nd. But he chose not to take any action.
Ly’s ego was too big to call him in, so I called him out as a concerned constituent. I exercised my First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression because I remember Ly’s words during the May 13th City Council meeting when he stated, “we need to respect the voters’ time and when the voters speak, we need to pay attention, and we honor that.”
I made two public posts on my Facebook account on June 2nd. My message had four points: (1) I am ashamed that I helped put Ly in the mayoral seat, (2) For Ly, it was never about the community; it was always about him, (3) Ly knows that he “f***** up” by showing his true colors, which could put his political career in jeopardy, and (4) Democrats and Ly supporters need to hold him accountable.
Side note: “You f***** up” were the sharp words to Ly by his former political consultant after Ly told EG Citizen that the EG Police’s 2016 endorsement of his opponent, Kevin Spease was a “backroom deal”.
On June 12, 2020, I received a voicemail message from an unknown Hmong man requesting a call back. I already knew what he wanted to discuss, but still I texted to ask “What do you want?” He introduced himself as Eavah Vue, “President of Local Chapter of Vue National Association of Sacramento and Representative of the Vue Clan in Sacramento ”. He threatened me to remove my Facebook posts about Steve Ly. If I did not comply, there would be issues coming my way. He stated that this was a “request” by the Lee (Ly) Clan/Family in Sacramento after Ly reached out to his people to complain about my posts. Vue’s exact words were: “Linda, the Lee clan just confirm that mayor Steve Ly complained about your post.”
The Hmong clan system is a social structure still practiced by many in the Hmong community. The Hmong community is a patriarchal society. There are 18 recognized clans. Each clan is now a collection of families with the same surname. The clans are called upon from time to time to act as a communal court to settle various community and family issues. Older Hmong men have predominantly been the voices in the Hmong clan system. Ly chose the Hmong clan system to settle his issue with me because he knows that the system was built by men to protect men. It is a failed system that has been heavily criticized for its role in gender-based violence in the Hmong community and Ly used that to his advantage. The fact that Vue threatened me to remove my posts, then acknowledged that he did not have all the details, shows that in the Hmong (male) elder’s eyes, I was already guilty. I was guilty because I am a woman who had the audacity to publicly speak out against a Hmong man.
After Vue and Ly’s failed attempt to silence me, I shared my story on Facebook. The post garnered 1,000+ supportive reactions and 400+ shares in the Hmong community. I even shared my story in a closed Hmong Women group on Facebook. On June 18, 2020, one of the moderators of the group reached out to inform me that Ly requested to be added to the women-only group to tell his side of the story. Why couldn’t he have done that on his own Facebook page? When his friend, the creator of the group, denied him access because the group serves as a safe space for women, he contacted another moderator to threaten her to delete my post because it was a “liability” issue. The moderator responded “No”. I am not surprised by the lengths Ly is going to try to silence me. He clearly has shown that doing damage control to salvage his reputation is more important than the pandemic, Black lives, unemployment rate, and struggling small businesses in Elk Grove.
On Facebook, Hmong men have made veiled threats and misogynistic statements to me. Some of them have openly posted on Facebook. They don’t believe I have the courage to call them out. Some Hmong men have condoned this type of misogynistic behavior and liked these posts.
But I want to point out that Sean Yang, who is a candidate for Elk Grove Unified School District in this November ballot and Ly’s political apprentice, seems to condone online bullying by liking the troll’s post.
What kind ￼of message, as a potential Elk Grove Unified School Board Member, are you sending? What example are you setting for our young children and for our community? In the March 6th edition of the Elk Grove Citizen Newspaper, you stated that you are campaigning for “equity”. What does that look like? Who benefits? How would you handle a disagreement by the community if you were on the board?
I am asking the community and all those who have supported and continue to support “Elk Grove Mayor” Steve Ly to hold him accountable for his actions and inactions. This community is mostly made up of people who pride themselves as progressives. They declare themselves as pro-Black Lives Matter, advocates of Women’s rights, and supporters of the First Amendment right. And I am asking Elk Grove voters to contact Ly’s biggest campaign donors, and let them know who they are supporting. You can find the lists of donors over the past years on 460 forms here: https://elkgrovecity.org/city_hall/city_government/city_clerk/f_p_p_c_filings/election_campaign_disclosure_statements .
If you want to learn more about Ly, you can find two local articles regarding his relationship with present and past colleagues:
“Mayor Ly Responds to Criticism from City Council Members”
“Elk Grove Vice Mayor Steve Ly Fired By Previous Employer for Financial Mismanagement, Leadership Failure”
Ly has proven himself to be unfit for the Mayor’s seat. If he is willing to take these measures to silence me, what else is he doing behind closed doors to others who have expressed opposing views? The City of Elk Grove deserves real leadership and I am sharing my story to let you know that Ly does not possess the qualities and skills needed to lead our City through another term. Clearly, it is time for someone else to lead our city.
Linda Vwj, former campaign manager of Steve Ly
[Update: I want to thank Elk Grove Tribune for allowing me to share my story on their platform. Recently, a threat was made to the Editor-in-Chief by a Ly supporter and I hope that the community holds Ly accountable to communicate to his supporters that this type of behavior is deplorable.]