Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly at Six Months - Numerous Setbacks, 'Nothingness' Success

June 14, 2017 | Six months ago today, Elk Grove's second directly elected mayor was sworn into office. Much like the examination ...

June 14, 2017 |

Six months ago today, Elk Grove's second directly elected mayor was sworn into office. Much like the examination of President Donald Trump's first 100 days in office, we will use this milestone to examine Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly's first six months in office.

The Start

Following the afterglow of the ceremony and reception held for Ly and fellow council members Steve Detrick and Darren Suen who also took their oath six months ago wore off, reality set in for the new mayor. While the council chamber was filled with a throng of Ly supporters for the ceremony, once the orange slices, Capri Sun's and parent tunnels dispersed, it was down to business and it was very evident, Ly was frustrated with the lengths, literally, taken by his colleagues in that evening's deliberations.

In that meeting not only did Ly's tepid motion to fill the vacancy created on the City Council by his election as mayor by a special election fail, but it also seemed as if his three colleagues made their deliberations on a relatively routine matter longer than typical. During this elongated discussion, Ly, as he has done since his election to the City Council in 2014, did not ask any question of the matter under deliberation that would indicate any degree of familiarity.  

Early political defeat for Ly as the new year starts

In early January, Ly's fledgling political machine suffered what can only be characterized, as The Police sang, a "humiliating kick in the crotch." During the California Democratic Party election for Assembly District 9 delegates, Ly constructed a slate of candidates that included among others, he and his wife.

As reported at the time, "For Ly, who was recently elected Elk Grove Mayor and who is attempting to expand his political operation, the loss of his entire slate was a setback. Among Ly's slate were Cosumnes Community Services District Director Rob Brewer, his full-time Elk Grove City employee assistant Teresa Rodriguez, his mayoral intern John Thao, Elk Grove Unified School District Public Information Officer Xanthi Pinkerton, and his wife, Cua Lo-Ly."

Ly and his entire crew lost to a slate backed by Sacramento Central Labor Council and Assemblymember Jim Cooper. Ly's efforts to wrest control of the district's Democratic delegation failed, as Trump might say, bigly.

First city council meeting of the year Ly called a hypocrite

Following that loss, things in the new year did not improve at all for Ly.

At the January 11 meeting, during public comment, Ly was called a hypocrite for his comments in the Elk Grove Citizen about out of town money influencing Elk Grove politics. Pointing to his numerous out of state fundraising trips, Elk Grove resident Steve Lee unabashedly called out the mayor. 

"I'm watching you, and I don't like you," Lee told the new mayor.

So much for a honeymoon with constituents. 

Lost political opportunity - MIA during January flooding

There is a now-famous political quote attributed to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The phrase was coined by Emanuel during his time in the Obama administration.

Emanuel said "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."

For Ly, that crisis arose in early January when Elk Grove and the surrounding areas were under threat of flooding. 

Ly, who is famous for posting endless pictures of himself taken by his personal photographer eating ribs, riding tricycles, or donning a kippah on social media, was MIA during the crisis.

Granted, posting on social media during a crisis can be a risky political proposition if not properly handled - just think of any of the President's ill-advised Tweets during the recent terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom - but it can be done deftly with just a little forethought.

As an example, during the flooding, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg took to social media to help spread information about sandbags distribution points, weather advisories and a host of storm related reports. While Steinberg did post a few pictures of himself helping at a sandbag operation, the information he conveyed on social media was primarily aimed at getting the word out to constituents.

Conversely, while Ly is always eager to post information about speaking at some out-of-town event, he was loath to even retweet information to his followers on Twitter about flood preparedness. 

Given Ly's success in winning three consecutive elections, we cannot attribute this as a failure to understand politics. Rather, this is an illustration of the mayor's failure to grasp that being mayor means for than posing with a cowboy hat chowing ribs - it means leading even if there is nothing in it for him other than service to the community.

Ly loses personal assistant  

Another early initiative waged by Ly that he lost, was, not surprisingly a skirmish to benefit himself and not constituents. That battle the Ly fought so hard for was to maintain the mayor's full-time administrative assistant.

Ly's four colleagues, Council Members Detrick, Suen, Stephanie Nguyen and Pat Hume, thwarted efforts by the mayor to keep his full-time assistant. Former Mayor Gary Davis had been granted a full-time assistant, but in a reversal of policy, Ly's compadres stripped him of that assistant.

While Davis had a full-time assistant that worked under his direction, the City Council changed the position. The person selected to be the full-time assistant would be shared by the entire city council, and more importantly, the person in that position would report to city manager Laura Gill.

Ly's loss of his personal assistant illustrates two important dynamics. As it relates to his colleagues, Ly obviously has no sway considering three of the four council members who stripped him of the position were the same people who gave Davis his personal assistant.

The second illustration drawn from this incident paints a more complete picture of Ly. While Ly will tepidly argue for something like by-district voting because of political pressure, when it comes to something that will benefit him directly, like having a full-time assistant or becoming a full-time mayor, he will tap the litigation lessons he learned from the University of Northern California Lorenzo Patino School of Law and tenaciously argue his case.

Though Ly never passed the California State Bar, the lessons learned at the defunct law school owned by famed bail bondsman Leonard Padilla have served him well when it comes to arguing for something that benefits him.

Failure to muster council support for planning commissioner nominee

If January was not bad enough for Ly, the month ended with another failure for the mayor. This failure was his inability to see his nominee for the Elk Grove Planning Commission appointed.

The vacancy on the five person commission came when former commissioner Sparky Harris resigned after eight years of service. Ly's nominee was a political ally, Marlon Hill, whom the mayor and Davis supported in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Elk Grove Unified School District Trustee Nancy Chaires-Espinoza, who occupies the seat on the school board formerly occupied by Ly.

When Ly placed Hill's name into nomination at the January 28 meeting, it failed to even receive a second meaning it was never voted on. Instead, Council Members Steve Detrick and Darren Suen said they would support the ultimate selection, Mackenzie Wieser.

Missed opportunity on Paris Treaty  

More recently, Ly, as mayor of the regions second largest city, missed an opportunity to weigh in on President Trump's withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Treaty on global climate change. While his fellow mayors in Sacramento and much smaller Davis, West Sacramento, and Woodland took a stance, even after solicitation for comment on the matter from this organization, Ly has remained silent.

While it is easy to write-off Ly's disinterest in the topic as his typical lack of curiosity, which could well be the case, there are a few other things worth considering.

First, given the push back he has received from his fellow council members on any number of issues, Ly could be trigger shy. Perhaps he has become institutionalized to the opposition displayed by colleagues and is just plain scared to take any action without their consent.

Another possibility is Ly's financial supporters, mostly real estate developers, are probably not supportive of the more subtle implications of the treaty. Consider the following excerpt from a story published on Business Insider discussing resistance to Trump on the treaty:
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has matched his anti-emissions rhetoric by making transit and density two cornerstones of his administration, fighting successfully for a dedicated sales tax increase to expand LA's subways and bus service, and beating back efforts to limit dense residential development.

Now that other mayors and governors have scored their points by expressing their resistance to Trump on America's participation in this non-binding agreement, they should take a moment to reflect on whether their jurisdictions are doing as much as Los Angeles to change their ways on emissions.        
Anyone with a skoach of knowledge of Elk Grove knows what happens in City Hall is largely determined by the big money interests of out-of-town real estate developers. If Ly, and in fairness any of his three council members who are perennial beneficiaries of the developers' largess, were to support something, anything that ran contrary to their interests like Mayor Garcetti has as outlined above, you can bet the developers would not take it lying down.

So while it is probably a reasonable argument that Ly is either unfamiliar with the Paris Treaty, much less the science of climate change, there could also be some a financial calculus on his behalf that keeps him muzzled. In either case, Ly's silence on this and other matters is a failure of leadership.


Any examination of Ly's first six months in office would not be complete without a discussion of his direct election as the first Hmong mayor in the United States.

To be sure, his election will undoubtedly serve as a role model for children of Hmong descent, immigrant children of all backgrounds, or perhaps someday a refugee child fleeing the violence of places like Syria. Perhaps Ly' biggest success has been his election which conveyed to children of all backgrounds that opportunities exist in our political system.

Beyond being an erstwhile role model, what success can Ly point to during his two years as a city council member and six months as mayor? Not much really, and therein is the biggest benefit to Elk Grove.

As has been well documented, Ly owes all his electoral success to his political mentor, former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis. While Davis left office last year under a cloud of intrigue, one thing that can never be said about Davis is that he lacked ideas.

While almost all of Davis' ideas were either unrealistic - think the failed soccer field and stadium proposal, or laughable - his idea to transform Elk Grove into a tourist destination; he had ideas. Unfortunately for Elk Grove taxpayers, Davis' ideas were often costly, embarrassing mistakes.

Conversely, while Davis had a plethora of schemes, Ly is the yin to Davis' yang. Not once since taking office on the council in 2014, much less since assuming the mayor's position has Ly articulated an idea or project.

And that ironically is Ly's biggest accomplishment - he has not done anything that will overtly harm Elk Grove taxpayers the way his mentor Davis did. While doing nothing might seem like a strange accomplishment, following Davis' disastrous four-year tenure, Ly's inaction does give the taxpayers a break if even for just a few months.

It should be noted in closing, while doing and accomplishing nothing as mayor might serve the city in the short run, this too is subject to change. Given Ly's propensity to continually seek higher elected office, it would not be surprising to see him seek the advice of his mentor Davis in the next several months and conjure up some scheme, as long as it is agreeable to his financial backers, so taxpayers better hold on to their wallets.

After all, being the ambitious and successful politician he is, Ly will eventually need to point to some major accomplishment as he tries moving up the political food chain. Being in a state of nothingness will only take you so far, even for Mayor Steve Ly.

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D.J. Blutarsky said...

Your article left out one important achievement. Ly's father fought in the Secret War in Laos and helped rescue downed American pilots. Elk Grove is lucky to have his father's refugee son as our Mayor!

Unknown said...

Comments like the one above prove who the readers of this website are, and who it's owner caters to.

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