Mayor Rich Tran has worked with the current Milpitas city council for almost a year, and it looks like he’s ready for a change.
Tran proposed on Tuesday to place an item on the council’s next agenda that would reduce the vice mayor’s term from the traditional two years to one year, pending a council vote. The move has garnered some choice words from the vice mayor herself.
Tran mentioned Councilmembers Bob Nuñez and Anthony Phan by name at Tuesday’s meeting, saying that they — like former Vice Mayor and current Councilmember Carmen Montano and current Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez — deserved a chance at the city’s number-two spot.
“I want what’s best for this city,” said Tran at Tuesday’s council meeting. “That’s to have the option to see two of these councilmembers [Nuñez and Phan] who have not had the opportunity. I’d like to see shared governance.”
He added, “That’s the Milpitas I see. One where we can share opportunities.”
Per city code, there are actually no specific instructions concerning the office of the vice mayor, shy of stating that he or she be appointed by the mayor, and approved in a vote by the council. There is also nothing mentioned about length of term, although traditionally vice mayors have kept their position through their given mayor’s two-year term.
Per unwritten custom, a new vice mayor is chosen shortly after the mayor is sworn in to begin a new term, and stays with the mayor until either reelected or ousted from office.
Although the move seems unprecedented in Milpitas, Tran pointed to a recent example set by current San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. In January, Liccardo booted Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, who had been serving as vice mayor since 2017, from her position and promoted Councilmember Chappie Jones to the role.
Councilmembers showed support for Tran’s request, including the current vice mayor, Karina Dominguez, who called it “a great idea” at the meeting. She said she was open to sharing leadership.
But she was also quick to point out that both Councilmembers Bob Nuñez and Anthony Phan confirmed her as vice mayor and assumed she would serve with Tran until at least 2020, the end of the mayor’s current term.
Then, shortly after Council finished discussing the topic, Dominguez posted on her Facebook page, claiming she was “saddened” that the mayor didn’t approach her beforehand about the proposal, and that Tran pushed the issue “as a priority over the pressing issues” in Milpitas.
Tran confirmed with The Beat that he didn’t bring up the proposal with Dominguez before Tuesday, yet rebutted Dominguez’s claims that he introduced the issue to silence Dominguez.
Dominguez, who has been active in many women’s advocacy circles in the community, has characterized the mayor’s actions as a personal attack on her.
It’s a claim Tran flatly denies.
“I was one of her [Dominguez’s] earliest supporters, and I continue to support her here in Milpitas. I don’t think that appointing a different person as vice mayor has anything to do with this or what people might think,” Tran said.
He added, “I’ve stood with Karina in difficult times, particularly with rent control and tenant rights. Let’s not forget that I was the one who appointed her and gave the final confirmation and blessing to be vice mayor. That’s my job. And it’s my job to make sure everyone gets the same opportunity.”
Dominguez also suggested the proposal was an attack on leadership among women.
“Sadly, tonight this city’s leadership has sent a chilling message to our community. If you are a young woman with an opinion, you will be silenced in favor of the status quo,” she wrote in her post. “If you stand up against power, you will be disrespected and forced into the sexist political ways of this system.”
Tran called the claims that his motion was motivated by gender “preposterous.”
“I grew up here in Milpitas with a single mom who worked three jobs,” he said. “When I first got elected, I appointed Marsha Grilli to be vice mayor. Folks know I supported Councilmember Carmen Montano and endorsed her for council. And when I got reelected, I appointed another woman to be the vice mayor.”
The vice mayor’s post — now pinned to the top of her Facebook page — was timestamped at 10:20 pm Tuesday, while council was in session deliberating over new developer fees for the city.
Dominguez was absent for most of the deliberations, including the staff presentation and the public hearing on the item, and was not present at the dias when she posted on Facebook.
Tran and Dominguez have engaged in a series of hyper-public tussles since the first-term vice mayor was elected. In May, both Dominguez and Tran announced their candidacies for the District 25 State Assembly seat within a month of each other. When Tran dropped out of the race in July to instead seek a third term as mayor, he seemed to cryptically scold Dominguez’s higher aspirations, saying that it was apparent that the vice mayor had her sights set beyond Milpitas.
He then endorsed Dominguez’s opponent in the race, longtime county school board Trustee Anna Song.
Dominguez and Tran also publicly clashed on Facebook in August over a new market-rate housing development, and in September, when Dominguez cast the deciding vote to explore renaming Dixon Landing Road to Barack Obama Boulevard, she framed Tran’s behavior toward the supporting voters as “bullying” and “unprofessional.” Just this week, Dominguez also criticized the mayor for failing to act more quickly on the city’s ever-present odor issue.
Tran, who wouldn’t comment on rumors of conflict between him and Dominguez, said he was hopeful the council would consider and pass his item, and expressed eagerness to work with the next iteration of the council.
“Many of the councilmembers weren’t expecting to hear my proposal. I think it’s great that they’re open to the idea of shared governance,” said Tran. “Now they have the time over these next couple of weeks to prepare themselves for the decision to appoint a different person for vice mayor.”
The item is tentatively slated to be heard at the next council meeting, on December 3.