Milpitas Vice Mayor Carmen Montano may soon get to drop “vice” from her title, as early election results show her leading a pack of six candidates running to succeed Mayor Rich Tran.
With about 91% of the expected votes counted in Santa Clara County races, Montano is nearly 10 points ahead of her closest competitor for the mayor’s seat, Councilmember Anthony Phan, and a touch further ahead of Councilmember Karina Dominguez. A Montano win would make her the first woman mayor in the city’s nearly 70-year history.
Montano has about 34.6% of the vote, or 5,567 votes, while Phan has 25.2% of the vote, with 4,058 votes. Dominguez, in third place, has about 25% of the vote with 4,023 votes.
None of the other three candidates—Voltaire Montemayor, Ola Robert Hassan and Franco Perez—earned above single-digit vote percentages.
Montano and Dominguez did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Montano nabbed an early and critical endorsement from Tran when she jumped into the race, along with backing from the local police and firefighter unions.
Tran, a homegrown mayor who quickly became a divisive political figure, has picked fights with several councilmembers and past city officials, including Phan and Dominguez.
After their relationship on the council soured, Tran stripped Dominguez of her vice mayor title in early 2020 and handed it to Montano. Tran’s Facebook page has nearly 7,000 followers, and he posts prolifically, including thinly veiled attacks on political opponents and plenty of support for Montano in the mayor’s race.
In a video Tran shared on his page Tuesday night, he is seen speaking and congratulating Montano on her victory at the election watch party for her campaign. Montano, wearing a sparkly crown, eventually took the microphone and sang a rendition of Etta James’ song, “At Last.”
Montano has branded herself as the experienced and trusted candidate, having served nearly eight years on the Milpitas City Council across two stints. She previously served as a school board member in Milpitas and was a teacher.
She previously told San José Spotlight her priorities as mayor will be to increase the affordable housing stock and boost funding for police and fire departments. She also said she wants to launch an audit to ensure public dollars are being spent appropriately, but didn’t offer specifics.
In October, San José Spotlight revealed Montano is currently under investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission over allegations she improperly reported a gifted trip to China, which she claimed was research for her teaching consulting business.
Phan, in the middle of his second term, said the biggest issue in Milpitas is the widening wealth gap. He wants to help close the gap by prioritizing affordable housing. He runs a land use consulting firm, among other roles he’s held.
Phan said Wednesday he’s disappointed in the initial rounds of results, but grateful for the amount of support he received.
“I know these numbers might still change, but I don’t think it will change drastically enough to alter the results of the election,” Phan told San José Spotlight. He said his supporters were likely to submit ballots on Election Day or the weekend before it, so there could be more votes in his favor. “I’m not quite ready to concede just yet. But I’ve acknowledged that it doesn’t look too good for our campaign right now.”
He was recently fined by the FPPC for improper record keeping and fundraising during his first run for council in 2016, including a revelation that he hired his 14-year-old cousin as his treasurer. At one point, Phan gave $43,000 in cash to his cousin in a Nike shoebox to deposit into a campaign account, but most of the money was never documented.
Dominguez, a crime prevention specialist for San Jose Police Department and freshman councilmember, described the city’s political environment as toxic. She ran for mayor to restore the community’s confidence in the council.
She wants to focus on hiring more beat cops, putting in place policies to increase housing affordability and building economic vitality by throwing more community street fairs and events to promote local businesses.