Opinion: ‘Darren-Mandering’ - Councilmember Darren Suen is trying to gerrymander his district

Editor's note: This opinion piece was submitted early yesterday and should have been posted prior to the most previous story on Suen&...

Editor's note: This opinion piece was submitted early yesterday and should have been posted prior to the most previous story on Suen's efforts. 

When the Elk Grove City Council began the process of moving to By-District voting, it was seen as a good first step after a long period of civil rights violations against Elk Grove voters.  Unfortunately, it appears that Councilmember Darren Suen is attempting to ‘gerrymander’ his district to protect himself from voters and candidates that might oppose him.

Let’s start by taking a look at the Elk Grove Council District map as it exists right now with four districts.  The map below roughly illustrates where each councilmember or declared candidate lives.  Councilmembers Hume and Nguyen were elected in 2018 and are not on the ballot in 2020.  Councilmember Suen is up for re-election on the west side of the city while candidates Maureen Craft and Kevin Spease are running against each other on the north side, all in 2020.

During the most recent council meeting, Councilmember Suen brought up for the first time the quizzical ideas that east-west districts are better for city unity and that Laguna West should be split up into two districts.  While city unity is laudable, the Laguna West community is the most obvious geographically defined area of the City.  Dividing it would be like splitting Old Town in half; non-sensical.  However, the immediate tangible benefit to Suen of splitting Laguna West is that he can avoid a large number of voters that oppose him in the Stonelake neighborhood on the southwest corner of the city.

Stonelake is the area most affected by the proposed and controversial California Northstate University Hospital (CNUH).  Local residents have expressed their displeasure with Councilmember Suen for a long list of CNUH-related reasons, including the following:
  • Suen took campaign contributions from CNUH leaders without vetting the project
  • Suen knew about the project but did not contact any residents to get their feedback
  • The project will destroy many local businesses and Suen has not attempted to accommodate them
  • Suen supported the project in a public press conference before any plans were submitted
  • The hospital would be in an at-risk flood plain
  • The neighborhood cannot sustain the additional traffic that will be triggered by the hospital
  • Adjacent residential properties will be dwarfed by huge dormitories, the main facility, and parking structures
In light of these serious objections to Suen’s behavior, Stonelake residents are organizing to challenge Suen in the 2020 election.  Suen’s response is to orchestrate gerrymandering of the district by moving CNU and Stonelake into Councilmember Nguyen’s district. The only feasible option to effectuate this is to divide Laguna West in half (see horizontal black line on map) and add adjacent neighborhoods.  Of course, this would mean that the Stonelake residents would be disenfranchised this election since Nguyen’s seat will not be on the ballot.

An added defect of this plan, and a key reason that it may pass, is that it manipulates the City towards a future outcome desired by Councilmembers Suen, Hume, Nguyen and their close ally, Kevin Spease.  The new district map would make it considerably easier for Kevin Spease to be elected to Council because it would necessarily move Craft out of his district and into Suen’s new district boundary.  Spease would then have no serious candidate to oppose him and Craft would have a very difficult time running against an established incumbent in Suen, particularly with his massive corporate-fueled campaign account of several hundred thousand dollars. 

It is truly rare that politicians make such obvious self-serving maneuvers from the Council dais.  However, these are desperate times for the Council. With By-District elections on the horizon, Councilmembers may actually have to face the electoral consequences of pursuing an agenda which prioritizes out-of-town corporate contributors and leaves residents behind. 

The appropriate response to Suen’s craven gerrymandering is to make the simple and obvious choice to keep the districts we have and then to revisit them after the 2020 Census. Any plan which makes it harder for a woman of color, like Maureen Craft, to be elected in favor of a white male is EXACTLY the reason why the City is about to be sued in the first place.  In fact, the gerrymandered district map would be ‘Exhibit One’ in the subsequent civil rights lawsuit and trial against the City; a lawsuit that would cost the City millions of dollars.

If you want the City to protect taxpayer funds and be responsive to voter concerns, contact your councilmember and let them know that they should keep the current district map without any gerrymandering.

Amar Shergill
Elk Grove Father of Three

Chair, Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party


Opinion 1738312575216822015

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Randy Bekker said...

Be careful what you wish for. Mr. Shergill assumes that District 1 would be split in half to protect Mr. Suen. I think the west side should have more than one council member under a by District voting. This is not to protect the current but the future. Look at Sacramento Ashby an Carr, Meadowview an Natomas. Ashby’s area was cut out of PLA an measure U monies, Carr’s area has been left behind for decades as the city courted the Kings Downtown. Having more than one representative in the West helps the residents. Now you wanted by District voting CNU could happen more easier now as all the other council members are beholden to their districts not the entire city. It is clear residents of Elk Grove wants a hospital just NIMBY so Council members will need to be more involved in their districts compared to the whole city. Replace Mr. Suen if that’s the will of the citizens in District 1. But you only have 2 votes, your district council member an the Mayor. The other council members will need to vote what the wishes of the citizens they represent in their districts. Changing the map to give the citizens better representation is not wrong. I think you are putting the cart before the horse as there are many ways to better serve all the citizens. But then again your past comments have not always been factual an I look forward to tonight’s meeting.

D.J. Blutarsky said...


Eye on Elk Grove said...

Stephanie Nguyen needs to pay close attention to this Op Ed. She left the council meeting before Darren Suen’s comments; so maybe she didn’t hear what was said and didn’t get the underlying meaning of what Suen is trying to pull.

Nguyen needs to pay attention to Elk Grove history when it comes to dumping on the lone woman on the Elk Grove City Council when the “men” gang up on whom they believe to be the weakest link.

Just ask Sophia Scherman. The men didn’t even blink an eye when it came to eliminating her district. Oh, the men will say it was the logical choice; but never once did they look at any alternatives.

In my opinion, Nguyen has yet to come into her own, appearing to be a follower of the men and hasn’t taken much of a leadership role. That makes her a mark. And by Suen’s comments, it appears that loyalty within the “Gang of Four,” is a word with no meaning.

Spoons and Forks said...

As a woman, I have to agree with Eye's comments above about Stephanie. I think she does not assert herself enough and if given the opportunity, those four men will roll her like a cheap you know what.

And Randy, so keep using the word "factual" but never back it up with any facts. So just what are all these facts you are sitting on, or are you spinning conspiracies like Trump? Put up or shut up!

Randy Bekker said...

I find it funny I seem to be the very few that actually owns my comments to my name. I once used an AKA when I was dealing with a high profile case where some were choosing to Dox an death threats. But I feel comfortable at home so I have no problem being up front who I am an the things I stand for. Facts are things that are hard to be debated. Trump, what the heck does he have to do with our city business. I am very approachable even if we disagree on subjects. I am not going to waste my time with every little detail. You want to know something then have a conversation with me. Trust me I won’t be silenced, I can play hardball an I swing with a big stick. My house years ago was full of teenage boys that towered over me. I would suggest you stop with hiding behind your false names an show some respect.

Spoons and Forks said...


Just the facts is all I ask.

Randy Bekker said...

I will be at tonight’s meeting, maybe you should approach me an we can set up a meeting to have an open conversation.

Unknown said...

I'll own my comment Randy. I've heard that argument that with By-District we will only have one council member looking out for us but you know what? That's ONE MORE THAN WE HAVE NOW! Your argument is flawed and this is why: We have representative government in Assembly Members, Congress & Senate. How do you explain that process yet deny that the same process would work at the local level?

Kathy Engle

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