Promptly at 6:00 PM on Monday, Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce Director, Waldo Herrera, issued welcoming remarks to the three candidates seated behind him in the nearly empty Wackford Center. Those candidates being current Mayor Steve Ly, Candidate Brian Pastor, and Candidate Bobbie Singh-Allen. The candidates following Covid-19 guidelines sat at small tables, a socially distant, 6 feet apart. Unlike previous election-year debates, during the time of Covid-19 restrictions, this Debate was a hybrid event of “candidates in person” and “audience online via Zoom.”
The event, held in association with The Elk Grove Citizen, was scheduled to last an hour. And the topics were to include the most pressing issues facing the City of Elk Grove.
Undoubtedly, when the event was called to a premature close, just 46 minutes later, many residents were still waiting to hear about those “pressing issues.”
The debate ended due to noise from outside the venue
Residents had logged in to observe the three candidates running for Mayor discuss the challenges facing their city. Issues such as:
- The critical plan for economic recovery
- Ways to improve community/law enforcement interaction
- Traffic improvement plans
- The need for local jobs that pay a sustainable wage
On account of the disruptive noise made by protesters outside the building, using sirens, to “shut down” the event, organizers halted the event early.
Effectively ending any chance at civil discourse by the candidates regarding these issues.
Elk Grove Chamber organizers paused the event and addressed Mayor Ly directly, asking if he could dissuade his supporters outside from disrupting the event. The Mayor chose not to do so, nor to respond verbally to the request.
Never the Less, She Persisted.
With a bit of good humor, Candidate Singh-Allen expressed her support for the 1st amendment, over the noise of the protest,
“I’d just give a shout out, I’m a strong proponent of Free Speech, I love all the enthusiasm.”
Candidates Pastor & Singh-Allen Joint Released a Joint Statement shortly after the disrupted Debate.
“Debates are an important tool for democracy to work. It is the opportunity for the voters to hear directly from candidates, or at least it should be. Tonight there was a small group of people armed with multiple megaphones right outside the debate site in Elk Grove. They made it nearly impossible for both Mr. Pastor and Ms. Singh-Allen to be heard by the public watching at home. The noise would stop when it was Mr. Ly’s turn to speak. While both Ms. Singh-Allen and Mr. Pastor support people’s first amendment rights. What happened during the debate tonight impeded the public’s right to hear from two of the candidates. It made a mockery out of the process that the Elk Grove Chamber had laid out. And it forced them to end the debate only 30 minutes after it had started. We are disappointed that Mayor Ly refused to take the opportunity provided by the debate organizers to address his supporters. To ask them to stop interfering with the ability of other candidates to participate in the debate. Ms. Singh-Allen and Mr. Pastor would like to take this opportunity to state unequivocally that they encourage ethical participation in the democratic process. They have come together to issue a united message because politics aside, integrity and ethics are values we hold dear in our city and tonight Mr. Ly failed to live up to that.”
Bobbie Singh-Allen Earns Elk Grove Chamber Commerce Endorsement
Immediately after the disastrous mayoral debate, the next day the Elk Grove Chamber Political Action Committee put out a press release indicating that they were endorsing Bobbie Singh-Allen for Elk Grove Mayor. The Chamber PAC also endorsed Darren Suen for City Council District 1, Kevin Spease for City Council District 3, Kelly Wilkerson for Los Rios Community College District 4, and Scott Schmidt for Los Rios Community College District 7.
Who were the Protesters? A Facebook Organized Protest
Leading up to the Debate, on September 22nd, the anonymously led, “Hmong American Ad Hoc” Facebook Page encouraged followers to show up and make their voices heard. The post was quickly reposted by the “Citizens for Transparency and Accountability” and the “Hmong American Kinship Group,” reaching many residents.
“VERY IMPORTANT PROTEST -We need everyone to come out. All of our voices must be heard. All the candidates running for the mayor seat will be there for a debate (Current mayor Steve Ly, Bobbie Singh-Allen, & Brian Pastor). Please join us.”
The protesters allege that Candidate Bobbie Singh-Allen, in early July, made statements that were demeaning to the Hmong culture, and they are demanding an apology.
The controversial statements, made on the candidate’s private Facebook page, protesters allege, criticized the centuries-old Hmong clan system, by saying it was demeaning to women. In her post, Candidate Singh-Allen wrote of the patriarchal Hmong clan system as a “controlling and intimidating system used to attack and silence these women.”
Singh-Allen, an immigrant from India who now has American citizenship, has accused current Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly, of previously harassing her via his associates who are part of the Hmong clan system.
Ly denies that he used the Hmong clan system members to harass or threaten anyone.
Local Hmong residents disagree with the characterizations made of the Hmong Clan System
Inside the debate hall, debate organizers encouraged Mayor Ly to “speak to his supporters” to see if he could quiet the noise coming from outside. Mayor Ly sat quietly and could not be heard responding to the request made of him.
Although it’s true, some of the protesters present on Monday could have been supporters of Mayor Ly, engaging in disruptive political theatrics. It is important to note that other participants wanted it known they were not supporters of the Mayor.
One older protest attendee, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid drawing a focus on her family explained, she was present to “stand up to the Hmong community as a whole against hateful words.” Words she feels could contribute to the rising anti-Asian sentiment the Hmong community is already facing related to the global pandemic.
Candidate Singh-Allen has previously expressed her concern for the well being of the Hmong community; in late August, she issued a statement that read:
“I’m sorry the Hmong community is in pain and is suffering,” she wrote. “It breaks my heart when I hear stories of anyone in the Hmong community or any other community being the targets of racism and hate.
“I’m sorry that they are being misled. And there is only one person responsible for that, and that person is Steve Ly.”
Mayor Steve Ly would like to focus on the issues
In a post, aborted debate interview with KCRA’s 3 Stephanie Lin, Mayor Ly shared his thoughts on the disruption caused by the protestors. As well as his view of the accusations of harassment levied against him by local women he’s crossed political paths with.
In a post, aborted debate interview with KCRA’s 3 Stephanie Lin, Mayor Ly shared his thoughts on the disruption caused by the protestors. As well as his view of the accusations of harassment levied against the Mayor by local women he’s crossed political paths with.
“It is unusual, particularly for Elk Grove, but this is an unusual year. The rhetoric I’ve heard over and over again is really distracting from the issues we need to be talking about. Mudslinging and name-calling is not going to be accomplishing anything.”