Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez and Mayor Rich Tran will have to learn to work with one another for at least another year, as Dominguez is keeping her post for now.
The council opted not to act on Tran’s November 19 proposal to slash the vice mayor’s traditional two-year term in half. Instead, the council on Tuesday voted 4-1 — with Councilmember Anthony Phan dissenting — to explore more focused roles for the offices of mayor and vice mayor.
The council will reconvene in January to hear a catalog of proposals in regard to the city’s top two leadership positions. Tossed around the idea fray were a proposal to explore clearer job descriptions for the mayor and vice mayoralities, a defined term length for the vice mayoralty, a mayoral primary, and a proposal to even rotate the position of mayor.
There are legal hurdles to deal with, which the council promised to look at. But joining them in the inspection will be residents, as the council also moved to present the issues on a public, non-binding poll, at Dominguez’s request.
The poll, presumably hosted on the city’s website, will be “statistically significant,” according to City Manager Steve McHarris, and will be used as part of the decision-making process.
The decision was applauded by Dominguez and her supporters, who have consistently characterized Tran’s vice mayor rotation proposal as sexist, Trump-like, and discriminatory toward women in leadership.
On social media, during the lead-up to Tuesday’s meeting, Dominguez herself suggested she was bullied and singled out as a woman.
“45 tweets, you use Facebook,” said Reverend Jethro Moore, president of the Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP, at the meeting. He was referring to President Donald Trump. “There seems to be more similarities to you disrespecting women and their right to have an opinion than actually leading this city. She’s one of the few women of color in leadership. That’s vengeful.”
Moore’s comments — in which he accused the mayor of seeking revenge against the vice mayor for voting in favor of renaming Dixon Landing Road to Obama Boulevard — were peppered with raucous applause.
Tran said he was “taken aback by his comparisons.”
“That’s not Milpitas at all,” Tran said in a follow-up interview with The Beat. “That’s why I’m really disappointed in politics. The false accusations of discrimination toward any demographic.
Instead, Tran points to a desire for everyone on the council to receive the same benefits he and Dominguez have received.
“I think tonight is a statement from council that we’re looking for shared leadership, no matter who it is,” said Tran.
Dominguez, who has been active in labor and social justice circles in the area, saw many of her counterparts — the vast majority of whom were not Milpitas residents — give public comment in support of her keeping her position. Among those who approached the dais were Saratoga resident and Women’s March Bay Area organizer Lisa Liddle, self-proclaimed “Voice of San Jose” Angela Tirado, former San Jose Unified School District Trustee candidate Olivia Navarro, author and former NAACP executive Chandra Brooks, and Latina business advocate Mimi Hernandez.
“We’re here to call BS on you, Mr. Mayor,” Hernandez said. “You seem to make a lot of references about passing the ball. You’re fine with passing the ball as long as you get to decide who the ball gets passed to.”
She continued, “You’re either intimidated or awkward around Karina [Dominguez].”
Tran meanwhile, didn’t think the “majority of San Jose” members in the chamber to be reflective of Milpitas.
“The vice mayor is from San Jose. She grew up there, went to school there, worked there most of her life,” Tran said. “It’s unsurprising that our chamber was full of people from San Jose.”
Tran and Dominguez have been at each other’s throats for months now, arguing both at the dais and on social media over everything from affordable housing to leadership etiquette. The two-term mayor has fought back against the accusations of him being sexist and a “bully,” and again denied rumors that his proposal was a way of silencing a vice mayor of color.
“I will say that social media has been my platform to bring forward transparency,” Tran said. “I will admit sometimes it’s questionable because of the posts that are put out. But I don’t create any falsification of politics in Milpitas.”
The latest round of barbs began well before Dominguez and Tran even stepped up to the dais, as both threw veiled accusations at one another on Facebook, both accusing the other of undermining the city’s important work.
Facebook seems to be the go-to outlet for both Dominguez and Tran, with Dominguez claiming on social media that the mayor has been difficult to communicate with, an issue she finally took to Tran in the public eye on Tuesday.
“We have to communicate with each other,” said Dominguez to Tran. “It’s hard to communicate with someone who’s silent. It’s hard to communicate when someone doesn’t even look you in the eye when you’re speaking,” she said, as Tran gave a confused look. “Who doesn’t even acknowledge your presence.”
Dominguez wore white, a symbolic color in the women’s rights movement, as did dozens of her supporters in the audience, at her request.
Tran has touted his record of appointing women into leadership positions, and did so again Tuesday. He said he was proud to serve next to Milpitas’s first female city manager, and has appointed two women to the vice mayoralty — including Dominguez.
“That’s passing the ball,” Tran said.
“This is not an executive decision,” Tran continued, referring to Tuesday’s item. “My colleagues wanted to explore this item of shared leadership. They joined me.”
Indeed, Dominguez was part of the unanimous vote on November 19 that moved the issue to Tuesday’s meeting, until she shifted her tune on Facebook later that night.
Caught in the overwhelmingly pro-Dominguez audience crossfire was Phan, one of two names (the other being Councilmember Bob Nuñez) Tran had bandied around to serve as Dominguez’s successor.
At one point, the audience jeered Phan as he came close to supporting Tran’s decision, prompting Tran to gavel for order several times. One audience member yelled out an allegation that Phan “just wanted her [Dominguez’s] job.”
Visibly flustered, Phan went on to say that he “wouldn’t accept” the vice mayoralty, in the interest of not dividing the community.
Dominguez, hoping to end the spat, addressed the mayor directly, imploring Tran to improve communication between her and the rest of the council.
“People are looking to us as leaders,” Dominguez said. “And we’re dividing our council. That’s not the civility I want for Milpitas.”
Council didn’t specify when the survey would be released, although discussion indicated it would be in January. The next meeting concerning this item is tentatively scheduled for January 21.