Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly last week was accused of making contradicting statements to separate media outlets regarding local women who allege that they were harassed by his associates or supporters.
Ly, who is seeking his third term as mayor, became America’s first Hmong mayor when he was elected in 2016.
He has continuously denied allegations that he had associates harass people, and has stated that he does not condone anyone who engages in disrespectful and harmful behavior toward women or people, in general.
In a media statement issued on Aug. 7, Ly expressed sympathy for those who claim that they were harassed.
“Over the past few weeks, I have had time to reflect on the disturbing and unacceptable incidents experienced by women in our community,” he said.
“They have spoken out about being harassed, intimidated and bullied. I believe them and acknowledge their pain. I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering they have endured.”
Among the women who accused the mayor of sending his associates to harass them is Elk Grove School Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen.
She also accused the mayor of misleading the Hmong community by saying certain comments to American media outlets and providing contradicting comments on the same issues to Hmong language media outlets.
“It has been made clear now by a court accepted translation that Mr. Ly says one thing to the community at-large and his colleagues in the council and another when he speaks to Hmong media,” she said. “In English, he says he believes the women’s stories of harassment. In Hmong, he dismisses them as just political attacks. Which one is it, Mr. Ly?”
The Bobbie Singh-Allen for Mayor campaign last week released Hmong TV transcripts that were translated by Junhui Joo, a translator based in Los Angeles.
This translator, which reviewed Hmong TV media interviews with Ly from Aug. 21 and 25, reported that Ly said the following words about Singh-Allen in an interview on Hmong USA TV:
“It is only part of my opponent’s political campaign to accuse me, so I do not need to come out and solve this problem,” he said. “What I want to tell you all is that the rumor is not real. This is the truth, and please understand that it is only political. The rumor is a lie, and I need to defend myself.”
In a review of the other Hmong media interview, on 3HmongTV News, the same translator noted that Ly referred to the harassment allegations against him as “baseless accusations.”
Responding to these translations, Singh-Allen posed the question, “Would the real Steve Ly please stand up?”
“Does he believe the stories of harassment by Singh-Allen, (Elk Grove School Trustee Nancy) Chaires Espinoza, (Cosumnes Community Services District Director Jaclyn) Moreno and many others or not?” she asked.
In a Sept. 8 interview with the Citizen, Ly was asked if he made statements to the Hmong media that contradicted what he said to American media.
“That’s not true,” he said. “If they had a qualified and capable interpreter, they would see that what I said (to the Hmong) media would be consistent with what I said (to the American media).”
Ly told the Citizen that he had two people translate the same Hmong TV media interviews and compare them to Joo’s English translations.
“I wanted an accurate and fair interpretation,” he said. “Regarding these interviews, I’m not going to participate in conjecture or smear tactics or petty name calling. If interpreted properly, it would have been abundantly clear that my message was consistent with what I have been saying all along.”
One of the people that Ly used to translate his interviews with the Hmong TV outlets was Dr. Muaj Lo, who Ly described as a court interpreter coordinator and trainer with the Ramsey County District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Lo noted that he found “major omissions and additions throughout both English transcripts.”
In one of his examples, Lo mentioned that Joo incorrectly inserted the word, ‘sue.’”
“In the transcript, the translator wrote: ‘There are far too many people accusing or defaming me and I could sue or accuse them in return, if I were a private citizen.”
Lo provided his translation of those words as “In politics, citizens can voice their many displeasures or criticism toward me. It’s not the same if I were a private citizen.”
In a message to Ly, Lo wrote: “There are phrases added by the translator, which you did not say in your interview. I find similar errors in translation throughout both English transcripts. Both English transcripts do not capture the accuracy of your interview in its entirety.”
Lo claimed that Joo added the following phrases, which Ly did not say in his interview: “They lied to others in the public…, but I cannot sue her.”
The other translator who Ly selected was a woman who Ly referred to as Ms. Vang, “an experienced interpreter and translator.”
Vang mentioned that Joo’s translations had “many examples of omissions and additions,” as well as mistranslations.
“The amount of errors in both translations makes the transcription completely different than what was said in the interview,” Vang wrote. “What concerns me is that it makes it look like personal attacks against others when that is not even evident in the interviews.”
Providing an example, Vang noted that the words accusations and accusers were common terms used in Ly’s Hmong TV interviews. However, Vang mentioned that Joo instead used the words, ‘lies’ and’ haters.’”
Vang also wrote: “Key comments made were omitted and additional comments were added in (the) English translation that did not exist in the interview.”
Pablo Espinoza, Singh-Allen’s campaign manager, questioned the qualifications of Ly’s translators.
“Mr. Ly cannot hide from his own words,” he said. “He can call it a misinterpretation, but unlike us, he has failed to provide an independent certification of the translation like we have.
“Our certified and independent translation makes it clear Mr. Ly has called the accusations of harassment against him baseless, rumors and dismissed them as political attacks. This, despite telling the City Council and the community at-large through English media reports that he believes them.”
“Perhaps Mr. Ly is willing to have the statement he shared with KCRA(-TV), his colleagues on the council and other media in English be translated by a mutually acceptable translator into Hmong, so he can post that translation on his social media platforms.”
Ly told the Citizen that although he used qualified translators and will not back away from a challenge on this matter, he would much rather move on to speaking about issues that will help move the city of Elk Grove forward.
“This upcoming election is crucial to the future of Elk Grove,” he said. “I’m committed to focusing on the issues that move us forward.
“We are in a pandemic; it is critical to focus on economic recovery efforts and getting our businesses open, as well as safely getting our students back to schools. Elk Grove needs credible, proven leadership – that’s what I have provided and will continue to provide if reelected.”
Singh-Allen also expressed a desire to speak about issues that matter in the everyday lives of Elk Grove residents.
“They deserve an honest conversation focused on the issues that matter to make our neighborhoods better and safer,” she said. “I look forward to talking about my COVID(-19) economic recovery plan to help working families and small businesses, about my plan to ease traffic congestion, and more ideas to move our city forward together.”