Former Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran, 38, is vying for his old office in the November 2024 election.
A Milpitas native, Tran was the first mayor to be elected without holding any official city office, winning in 2016 and reelected in 2018 and 2020. He obtained a Master’s in Public Policy degree from New York University and a Master’s in Social Work from San Jose State University.
“I’ve been focusing on my purpose in life and it’s here, it’s always been here,” Tran told San José Spotlight. “It’s to serve the community and to make Milpitas the best place it can be.”
Tran’s priorities are the same as when he was mayor, which are improving residents’ quality of life, along with the city government’s morale, fiscal health and public safety. Tran told San José Spotlight during his last term as mayor, he was concerned about the city governing after two city managers turned over during his tenure and a third was terminated after he left office.
“I do care about the city a lot and I have faith that our elected officials, all 5 of them, are doing what they need to do for the betterment of our community,” Tran said.
On quality of life and public safety, Tran said he is concerned about homelessness, illegal dumping and blight in Milpitas neighborhoods. He pushed for a quarter of a cent sales tax, which was approved during his 2020 term, to help increase funding for the city’s police and fire departments. He passed an ordinance enabling the police department to regularly sweep encampments near schools and other areas.
Milpitas has about 77,000 residents according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2022 estimates. The city has at-large elections—candidates are not tied to a district— two council seats will be open in the November 2024 election. The mayor serves two-year terms and can only serve three consecutive terms. A person can only serve 10 consecutive years as a councilmember or mayor and then must take a two years hiatus before running again for either position.
Tran said, “If I can be the mayor until I’m 80 years old, I’m going to go for it.”
One specific focus Tran has is on vehicle crimes, such as car thefts and break-ins, which disproportionately impacts neighborhoods, he said. This could be improved by a greater police presence, Tran said. The city’s south side is more impacted by vehicle crimes because the Milpitas Police Department’s station is located in the city’s north, he added.
“If we can shine light in certain areas, literally it can prevent crime activity,” Tran told San José Spotlight.
His entry into the race has come as a shock to Mayor Carmen Montano, who said she is also planning to run again. In the 2022 mayoral election, Tran endorsed Montano for the seat.
She said she “respect(s) anyone who runs because serving is a lot of time commitment.”
This would not be the first time Montano and Tran competed. They ran for the mayorship in 2016, which was the first time Tran won.
Tran has been a divisive figure in Milpitas politics since his entry in 2016. He has previously been criticized by residents and councilmembers for spurring controversy, such as his statements on homelessness and threats to sue the county and state over a Project Homekey proposal in 2020. Councilmember Anthony Phan, who worked with Tran on the city council for six years, said Tran acts like a bully and strong arms other officials into agreeing with him.
“He’s the gym locker jock that will push you up against a corner and demand lunch money,” Phan told San José Spotlight.
To Tran, these controversies stem from disagreements across politicians, and he cares more about feedback from residents and voters.
Tran likened the end of his mayorship to the end of a movie, as he considered running again. After experiencing multiple personal losses this year, including the death of his grandmother, Tran said he reflected on his life and decided he wanted to run for reelection. His campaign strategy is to traverse the city’s 13.6 square miles to personally knock on every resident’s door and hear their concerns.
“As long as I keep winning landslide elections, I know I’m doing something right,” Tran told San José Spotlight.