The publication of an op-ed from The Elk Grove Tribune ignited questions about Mayor Steve Ly’s ethics. The op-ed was about the mistreatment of the mayor’s former campaign manager. Since the publication, several women (some elected officials), spoke about their negative experiences with Mayor Steve Ly. Ly has been accused of harassing, threatening, and sabotaging women (and their political campaigns) through petty tactics.
Here is a timeline with excerpts from the victims along with commentary from other members of the community.
Linda Vwj was the former campaign manager for Mayor Steve Ly. It was her op-ed that was published by The Elk Grove Tribune. At the beginning of this quote, Vwj speaks about the mayor alleging that a fire, which destroyed a local business, was started by Black Lives Matter protestors. The owners of the business said the fire was not started by protesters, but likely by a nearby business.
From Vwj’s Facebook page:
You see, over a week ago, Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly wrote a post in which he prematurely allege[sic] that a local fire that destroyed a Hmong family business was started by protestors.
The owner communicated to Sacramento School Board Member Mai Vang that “they didn’t know all the facts but suspect that a wood company nearby may have caught fire and spread to his business.” Then, Steve deleted his post in all of his social media accounts and acted like nothing happened. Taking absolutely no responsibility of how dangerous his statements were, given his position, platform, and the current social climate.
As Steve’s former campaign manager during his first mayoral race, a current Elk Grove citizen, and a person of Hmong descent, I could no longer tolerate this egotistic and callous behavior that could potentially harm black bodies. The same egotistic and callous behavior that put volunteers and me in danger during the beginning of the campaign when threats were made to Steve. We worked hard until the evenings with a door that could not be locked from the inside. At first, Steve was resistant to use some of his campaign funds to hire a locksmith, despite the fact that he immediately set up cameras at the front door of his home. The safety of the campaign team should have never been something that I, as the campaign manager, had to fight tooth and nail with Steve about.
So I called him out because his ego was too big to call him in. I wrote a post on my Facebook, and then a follow up post. I kept it private but tagged a few friends. And if you are not familiar with how Facebook works, a private post tagged with someone’s account can be viewed by his or her friends as well. As a result:
– A fake account was re-activated to try to drag me, and then it targeted pro-BLM Hmong women.
– A friend contacted me to advise that the Hmong elders want me to delete my posts.
So when Eavah Vue reached out to me, I already knew. I was asked by the Lee/Ly Clan to remove all of my posts that I wrote on Facebook about Steve Ly. Eavah said he did not want to see any other issues come against me. I asked if that was a threat? Then he asked me to provide an explanation for my statements about Steve so he can forward them to the Lee Clan. I asked Eavah to have the Lee Clan confirm the identity of the person who made the complaint against me before I provided my explanation.
I belong to the Vue/Vwj Clan, so to any Hmong elders in the Vue Clan, I am considered their daughter. Steve tried to leverage his political position and male privilege to have Hmong men do his dirty work and come for me though my clan. I want to mention that I don’t know Eavah Vue and never met him or anyone associated with the Vue organization. Steve gave my number to them!
Shortly following the publication of the op-ed, several other victims came forward with their experiences. Some of these victims are Linda Vwj, Bobbie Singh-Allen, Nancy Chaires Espinoza, and Jacqueline “Jax” Cheung. What follows are their testimonies and statements regarding how they were bullied and harassed by Mayor Ly and his associates.
Jaclyn Moreno is the Cosumnes CSD Director. Upon returning home she was shocked to read the op-ed.
I came home yesterday afternoon from camping and no cell service for a few days to the op ed written by Linda Vwj calling out the harassment and threats she received after publicly denouncing Mayor Ly’s use of the Hmong clan system in an attempt to silence her. Then, I learned that a journalist (Jackie Cheung) in our community was harassed and threatened for releasing the op ed. Police reports have been filed.
Yesterday evening, in response to the recent events, Mayor Ly released a statement. Although I appreciate the effort of Mayor Ly to address the claims, I am disappointed that Mayor Ly failed to respond specifically to the fact that elder men of the Hmong clan system continue to contact and threaten women in our community. Mayor Ly acknowledged the patriarchal system in place, but failed to denounce the use of the system to silence women in the community who dare to speak out.
If Mayor Ly truly desires to uplift and empower women, like his statement reads, he will denounce his use of the clan system for the purpose of silencing women, acknowledge the harm that using this system has inflicted, and discuss his role in making sure women in our community do not experience this treatment again.
Patriarchy is real and the women in our community need elected leaders who are allies and active in dismantling the systems in place that continue to uphold the patriarchy.
Bobbie Singh-Allen felt compelled to share her own story as well and posted it on her Facebook page.
Not many people know but enough were made aware. It’s August 2012 and I was just appointed to Elk Grove Unified School District to fill a vacancy. Steve Ly was sitting in the audience. He failed to get another vacancy earlier that Spring when it was vacated by Pam Irey. I didn’t know Steve Ly.
After many hours of deliberations, I was ultimately appointed. I was immediately sworn in without my family present. As a board member of the Elk Grove Teen Center and Elk Grove Food Bank, a then member of Laguna Rotary, I was strongly vested in my community.
Days following the appointment, Steve Ly and his clans men came after me. They contacted the District to find out how to contest the appointment and petition to have it overturned. Realizing the hurdle was high, they resorted to online attacks and phone calls. I was the first Indian American woman to serve and Steve Ly didn’t like it.
I wondered why? Well it was simple. Earlier in the Spring when Steve Ly was rejected from being appointed to EGUSD, I testified in support of someone else who was a product of the District and coach for mock trial for years at Elk Grove High School.
From City Council Member Stephanie Nguyen’s Facebook:
As a Vietnamese American woman who was raised in a traditional Vietnamese family, I understand and value the traditions and cultures of all communities, especially the Asian community because that’s how I was raised. What I don’t value or appreciate is when our culture and traditions are used to silence or oppress women.
Recently, women in our community have come forward to share their stories about how they have been bullied and/or threatened and those stories lead to them receiving more threats. As an API woman, this is disheartening for me. All too often, women, especially Asian Pacific Islander (API) women, have been conditioned to fear speaking out, in part because of the lack of support, or the threats that follow. That’s why we fight and combat harassment and inequalities against women.
We have worked too hard for this to continue to happen. Women who speak out should not have to fear being shamed. I commend these women for coming forward.
Despite being the Editor-in-Chief of The Elk Grove Tribune, Jax also runs a personal blog. Here is an excerpt from her website.
I’m caught in the middle of a nightmare, a drama that I never wanted to be part of. I am the Editor-In-Chief and owner of Elk Grove Tribune. My news media site Elk Grove Tribune posted two Op-Eds. One was by Linda Vwj, Mayor Steve Ly’s former campaign manager, and one was the response Op-Ed by Mayor Steve Ly. Since then my family has been threatened and harassed, I’ve been intimidated by a Hmong clan, and I had a miscarriage. I filed a report with EGPD. I AM SCARED OUT OF MY MIND, WORRIED, AND DEVASTATED!! THIS IS NOT THE ELK GROVE I KNOW!!
The day Linda’s Op-Ed ran I received a threatening phone call.
Me: Hello, this is Jax.
Man: Hi Jax. I’m calling for one reason. You need to take down that shit about Steve Ly.
Me: I’m not going to do that.
Man: If you don’t shit’s going to go down with you and your daughters.
Me: Is that a threat?
Man: It’s a fact.
Me: Ok, we’re done here. I will be reporting this to the police.
I did what I was supposed to do. I filed a police report. I called EGPD and Officer Gushchin came to my house took down my report. The next day someone from a Hmong clan called and tried to talk to me. I felt very intimidated.
The man who called insinuated that because my last name and theirs shared the same Chinese character that I should talk to them. I firmly but politely told them that I was not a part of the Hmong clan system and I did not mean any disrespect to his clan but they have no part in the decisions I make in my life, with my work, and with my family.
Furthermore, even if we did share any DNA, they would still have no part in my decision making process in the choices I make in my life, with my work, and with my family. I did feel harassed again. I’m 94.5% Chinese. Of that I’m 3% Hmong. I have nothing against Hmong clans or culture. But I am not a part of this Hmong clan system. Nobody has any right to intimidate or harass me! I went to the police station and updated my report.
Jax then describes a case of online harassment of not just her, but of Bobbie Singh-Allen.
A Dr. Firdos Sheikh was also harassing me online. I have screen shots of her harassing me on Bobbie Singh-Allen’s page. She is a known associate of Steve Ly. I Googled her and she was arrested and has charges against her for keeping two illegal immigrants in her home against their will.
I’m so angry, upset, and confused. I lost my baby! It would have been our third child. I lost it the day after I received the threatening phone call and the same day the guy from the Hmong clan called me.
My family went into hiding for a few days. We are interviewing bodyguards. This is just all so surreal. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.
Someone needs to step up and do something. I hope and pray other people who are in my situation and who have been in my shoes have the courage to come forward. I’m scared out of my mind but I’m coming forward, because nothing will change if I don’t.
From Linda’s Facebook:
It has come to my attention that a person by the name of “Mai Foster” (Mia Yang, is that you?) had sent emails to local elected leaders to try to paint CSD Director Jaclyn Moreno and EGUSD Bobbie Singh-Allen as racist, and out of place, for their comments in holding Elk Grove “Mayor” Steve Ly accountable for his unacceptable behavior against women. I don’t think there is nothing racist or out of place when elected women leaders use their platform to call out patriarchy.
I commend Director Moreno and Trustee Singh-Allen for their courage to stand in solidarity and doing what is right. I condemn the continuous bullying tactics by Steve Ly and his supporters in retaliation for when people speak out against him.
Just like Steve Ly, “Mai Foster” provides a narrative to an audience of non-Hmong elected leaders that honestly does not reflect the experiences and realities of so many Hmong women in our community. This is a one-sided narrative that Hmong people, who want to uphold oppression of their women, will share with non-Hmong people to justify and rationalize certain practices in the community.
Again, this is another attempt to deflect from Steve Ly and his unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions and inactions.
Tami Nelson is a Los Rios Trustee and she posted this message on her Facebook page:
I was saddened when I heard that a few local women were recently silenced and threatened for speaking out about their personal experiences. This is never ok and needs to be addressed and investigated. If someone wants to share their side, then they have the same ability to respond to what was said. Let’s get things out in the open.
I stand in solidarity with the women speaking out and telling their stories. I applaud your courage and want you to know you are not alone.
Coincidentally, an op-ed was published.
Nancy Chaires Espinoza also felt the need to share her story. She wrote an op-ed which The Elk Grove Tribune published. Here is an excerpt of her experience:
Over coffee on a Thursday morning I told him that obviously no one had a claim to the seat (city council), but I’d like to know if he was in fact running. He told me that he was flattered by encouragement he’d received to do so, but was not going to run for city council. Two days later, I began to receive calls from local elected officials saying that Steve was running and had just called them to ask for their endorsement. Steve had nothing to gain by lying to me about his intentions. This was the first of many times I would witness Steve lying reflexively.
Steve’s campaign against me stood out for its personal attacks and constant pettiness. For example, I spent countless nights with my team placing lawn signs or larger campaign signs in view of the public across the entirety of the City of Elk Grove. The following day, Steve’s signs would be placed in front of mine by a few feet, blocking view of my signs when there was plenty of room to space out his signs, in violation of city code. Eventually, he started placing his signs literally on top of my large signs. My smaller, lawn signs would be pulled out and thrown on the ground, sometimes torn in half. This occurred regularly for the remainder of the campaign. No one else’s campaign signs were moved, blocked or damaged that year.
When they started placing his signs on top of mine, I called Steve and asked him to make it stop. He denied knowledge of these actions and claimed he had no control over what his campaign volunteers did. For those who don’t know, campaigns purchase these signs and choose who distributes them. Steve’s interference with my campaign was illegal, and along with his frequent placement of signs in prohibited areas, I could have reported him for that. I chose not to because I didn’t want to look like a victim. In my first ever campaign, I was introducing myself to many voters, and I didn’t want to be seen as the woman who was too weak to engage in politics.
Later, Espinoza described a “whisper campaign” meant to ruin her reputation.
Steve and his associates began to use false social media profiles to post comments online suggesting that I had secret transgressions and they urged local press to investigate. They created false email addresses to impersonate my supporters and alleged that I had had an affair with my husband resulting in the end of his first marriage. They claimed to have court records of those divorce proceedings which described my unscrupulous behavior. They created false email addresses and false social media profiles. They claim that everyone in the State Capitol where I worked at the time, knew about this and shunned me for it.
I could have easily disregarded attacks that only involved me, but attacking a candidate’s family crosses an ethical line. My young teenage stepson had internet access and could have been confronted by his peers with these salacious stories at any time. I had to sit him down and explain the allegations and the true story. He had been too young to remember his parents being together and wouldn’t have known whether these allegations were true. He and his mother both felt exposed and upset at being dragged into this tawdry story by someone they didn’t even know. My husband and I had worked hard to give our son a positive impression of civic involvement and public service, but I saw his heart harden and cynicism develop as a result of this attack on our family. This all occurred about two weeks before the November 2014 election…
To this day, Ly continues to employ the same tactics against other women: fake email addresses, fake social media profiles, claims that things are done without his knowledge or consent, claims that he cannot control the actions of his volunteers or staff.
Two years later, In 2016, while I was hospitalized outside the area and on strict bed rest due to pre-term labor, Steve recruited someone to run against me in my re-election to the Elk Grove Unified School Board.
What I take issue with is the intentional recruitment of an opponent simply to create a roadblock for a woman who is solely motivated by public service. A woman who did not pose a threat to Ly’s political aspirations. Ly has never cited any reasons related to public policy or governance to work so hard to oppose me, even when we weren’t actually competing for the same position.
I’ve been asked many times what caused the schism between myself and Ly. Having no knowledge of any actual disagreements or conflicts, I can only note the pattern that has developed with his behavior towards any woman who becomes involved in local democratic politics.
I fully expect that as a result of my speaking out against Steve, he will once again recruit someone to run against me, and devote his time and resources towards impeding me from continuing my public service. This is the threat that Ly has wielded over me for years, and I’m ashamed to say, is one of the reasons I have stayed silent.
I’m speaking out now because the stories Linda Vu, Jax Cheung, Bobbie Singh-Allen and many others tell bear a striking resemblance to my own.
All of these events coalesced at the Elk Grove City Council meeting. Linda and Jax both spoke about their experiences and testimonies after the publication of the op-ed. Here is what was said:
Good evening City Council members. My name is Linda Vwj and I once served as the former campaign manager of Steve Ly in 2016, and my name is Dr. Jacqueline “Jax” Cheung and I am the Editor-In-Chief and owner of Elk Grove Tribune.
Mayor Steve Ly, since the start of your political career, you have sworn under oath 4 times to support and defend the Constitution. Tonight, we are here because you failed to honor that oath and the pledge to follow the City’s Code of Ethics. For far too long you have terrorized those who speak and hold you accountable. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
In yesterday’s Elk Grove News article written by Elk Grove School Board Trustee Nancy Chaires Espinoza, she courageously shared her “Steve Ly” story. She outlined petty tactics that she described as a “whisper campaign to tarnish my ethical and moral reputation.” This effort was led by Steve and his associates through multiple fake social media accounts. These are tactics not foreign to Linda, Jax, Bobbie, or Jaclyn.
Linda Vwj, has been labeled as a “disgruntled former employee” who was fired by Mayor Ly, a “criminal” who embezzled money from the City of Elk Grove, a “lazy employee” who ate all of the donated food, a “slut” with nothing better to do, and a “puppet of Sacramento Unified School District Trustee Mai Vang.” Similarly to Trustee Espinoza, she was accused of having secret transgressions.
Jax Cheung has been labeled as a “hater of Hmong culture,” a “liar”, a woman who “caused her own miscarriage.” She and her daughters have been threatened. She has filed a police report. She was contacted by a member of a Hmong clan. She had a car in her driveway egged. She has hired a bodyguard.
Bobbie Singh-Allen has been labeled as a liar. She has receipts and witnesses to prove that Steve Ly and his associates tried to contest her appointment to the Elk Grove Unified School District Board.
Nancy Chaires Espinoza has had false rumors spread that she caused her husband’s former marriage to end. In reality, her husband was never married to her stepson’s mother and she had nothing to do with their separation. She was not making up that Steve Ly recruited someone to run against her in the 2016 election. Yesterday evening, Steve enlisted one of his surrogates to attack Nancy’s credibility within hours of her story being released.
Jaclyn Moreno has been labeled as a “racist” who is said to “not understand Hmong culture.” Jaclyn never asked for Mayor Ly to denounce the Hmong clan system or his clan. She asked for him to denounce patriarchy and for him to denounce the practice of using men to harass, intimidate, threaten, and suppress the voices of women
Dr. Firdos Sheikh, a known associate of Mayor Ly, repeatedly accosted Linda, myself, Bobbie, and Jaclyn online while engaging in victim shaming, blaming, and harassment. Not only can we prove Dr. Sheikh’s association to Mayor Ly, we can demonstrate she is a criminal who currently has active charges against her and a settlement hearing set for September.
Tonight, we demand the City Council members to censure Steve Ly for refusing to take accountability for his involvement and complacency. And we also demand that the City opens a case with an independent entity outside of the Elk Grove Police Department to investigate. While we have respect for the Elk Grove PD, we believe that an independent investigation by an organization or individual not connected to the City of Elk Grove is necessary. To the members of the City Council, we ask that you stand with us, HERE AND NOW, and do the right thing. We have nothing to hide.
After the meeting Linda posts on her Facebook page:
Tonight was a small win at the Elk Grove City Council meeting. But it is only the beginning.
The City Council members (all 4 of them) voted to place on the future meeting agenda options to reprimand Steve Ly for his harassments, threats, and bullying. They will review options such as censure, grand jury, corrective actions, and etc.
The City Speaks
Stephanie Nguyen is on the Elk Grove City Council and she shared her opinion about these transgressions.
These last couple of weeks have been pretty tough for me. You see one letter pop up about Mayor Steve Ly, and you see another op-ed pop up…
This doesn’t make Elk Grove look good, it doesn’t make Asian Pacific Islanders look good.
These bullying and silencing tactics exist in Hmong culture, but they exist in all cultures.
[Nguyen then speaks of actions that Ly could do to take responsibility.]
I don’t want to ignore or discount what these women have said, elected women in fact. What these women have said is disturbing and unacceptable. I have some action items that I request you do, to show that you are trying to fix this, to resolve this. Because if it wasn’t you as you say, it was a member of your campaign, or a team member, or one of your associates… I am requesting that you do a formal letter of apology to these ladies, to Bobbie Sing-Allen, to Nancy Chaires Espinoza, to Linda Vwj, and Jax Cheung for the emotional stress that you and your team have caused them. Second, I would like you to take some classes about harassment and bullying.
I would like for you Mister Ly — not your staff, not your assistant, but you — to pull together a meeting with clan leaders on some type of online platform to teach the public about the clan system to the community.
Lastly, in our next meeting I would like to have an update on what is happening with these three items.
Vice Mayor Steve Detrick also gave his comments.
This is a very awkward situation that has been created. I know you had the police chief talk earlier about anything founded that was against the law. Well, these issues may not be against the law, but this type of behavior is not to be excused. I would support the recommendation to at least bring this back to the next council meeting for the idea of you being censured. It’s really disheartening to hear tactics like this.
You’ve done an excellent job of campaigning against things that run against you… It’s all very obvious and orchestrated when the emails and the phone calls that have come in tonight all have the same basic content.
Dr. Jax Cheung also made her closing remarks.
Me, Linda Vwj, EGUSD Trustees Bobbie Singh-Allen and Nancy Chaires Espinoza stand by our statements about harassment, intimidation, and bullying that have occurred. There are other elected women who plan to come forward.
The fact that Mayor Ly had dozens of people call in to attack our credibility is evidence of bullying, harassment, and intimidation. We thank Vice Mayor Detrick, City Council Member Hume, City Council Member Suen, and City Council Member Nguyen for doing the right thing and moving for censure of Steve Ly, a possible grand jury investigation, and other remedies to be placed on the agenda for the future.
We support the censure of Steve Ly by the City Council, grand jury investigations, and an independent investigation by an entity not connected to the City of Elk Grove. WE WILL NOT BE SILENT!!
At the end of the night, the City Council made their vote. At the next meeting, they will discuss the censure of Mayor Ly and a grand jury investigation into his behavior.