Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran has handpicked his replacement, but now a new challenger—and an outspoken adversary—are shaking up the contentious mayor’s race.
Councilmember Anthony Phan jumped into the mayor’s race Friday, joining fellow Councilmembers Carmen Montano and Karina Dominguez. Tran is terming out after three, two-year terms as mayor, but he is running for a seat on the council.
Tran has been a controversial figure, from accusations of tone-deaf comments to potential violations of the Brown Act. Those running to replace him want to change this antagonistic culture and focus on the issues at hand.
“I worry about the state of Milpitas, how divisive and how polarized we are getting,” Phan said. “It’s unhealthy for the Democratic process and unhealthy for our residents.”
Tran doesn’t agree with the characterization. He says City Hall has been running efficiently since his election in 2016.
“Over the years I’ve seen so many politicians make false claims,” Tran told San José Spotlight. “Instead of focusing on me, these people should focus on what they’re going to do for the community. That’s what I have been doing and that’s why I keep winning.”
Phan has served one term on the council and is halfway through his second term. He said Milpitas’ biggest issue is the staggering wealth gap. He hopes to alleviate some of those disparities by prioritizing affordable housing solutions, investing in public safety and focusing on the economy.
“I see the toll policies and regulation can have on businesses,” Phan said. “At the same time, I’ve seen how government can work to drive jobs, to attract new businesses and that’s all very relevant in Milpitas.”
Phan has sat on regional boards and committees such as the Association of Bay Area Governments, Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Cities Association of Santa Clara County. Before that, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as a board member of the U.S. Selective Service System. He also started the United Auto Workers’ Tesla campaign in Fremont to unionize workers.
He has endorsements from former Milpitas Vice Mayor Bob Nuñez, former Mayor Bob Livengood and San Jose City Council candidates Peter Ortiz and Omar Torres.
“The proudest moment on council for me was how we handled the pandemic because we were united in the actions that we took, and it helped a lot of people,” Phan said. “But for some reason, this ability to get things done has reached a standstill and we haven’t been able to perform to the level of public service that we should be performing.”
Dominguez, who is finishing her first term on the council, jumped into the mayor’s race in June.
Dominguez and Tran have had a difficult relationship, with the mayor threatening to censure her for allegedly making personal attacks against fellow councilmembers. But the chaotic and divisive political scene in Milpitas existed even before Tran, she said.
“What we have seen in Milpitas is a very toxic, political, competitive City Hall,” Dominguez told San José Spotlight. “Unfortunately, that hurts not only the constituents that we serve, but it also creates a very toxic internal culture which affects our employees.”
Dominguez said she wants to restore confidence in the council by focusing on what she says matters most to residents: public safety by hiring more beat cops, policies to increase home affordability, and economic vitality through community street fairs and events to promote local businesses. She is endorsed by state Assemblymember Ash Kalra, San Jose Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez and Raul Peralez, Mountain View Mayor Lucas Ramirez and a slew of Milpitas community members.
Dominguez has more than 15 years of experience working in a variety of government and nonprofit roles and currently works for the San Jose Police Department as a crime prevention specialist. She said those experiences have prepared her for the mayor’s seat.
“We are the gateway of Silicon Valley and Milpitas has so much potential,” Dominguez said. “We need to make sure those jobs are going to Milpitas residents again so we could create that upward financial mobility for everybody who lives here.”
Tran has endorsed Montano to replace him as mayor. Montano, who currently serves as vice mayor, has lived in Milpitas since 1964. She’s worked as a schoolteacher, served on various commissions since 2000 and was the first woman of color ever elected to the Milpitas City Council in 2012.
Her priorities are increasing the affordable housing stock, bolstering funding for police and fire and fiscal responsibility with taxpayer dollars. She wants to launch an audit to ensure public dollars are being spent appropriately.
“I want to make sure that the people’s tax dollars are being spent wisely,” Montano told San José Spotlight. “I think we could do better, and I just want to make sure that we’re always informed.”
Montano has been on the Milpitas political scene for decades. She says she’s driven by her love for her hometown. Along with Tran, she is endorsed by Councilmember Evelyn Chua and the city’s police and fire unions.
“My heart is here,” she said. “My grandkids go to school here. My kids went to school here. So I have a vested interest in making sure that this is one of the best and most safe places to live in the valley.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.