Mayor Rich Tran has been pushing for a new vice mayor for over a month. On Tuesday, Tran got his wish, as Council voted to move Bob Nuñez into the vice mayor position.
But it came at a cost: Ousting now-former Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez — the labor-friendly, women’s rights activist, and at one time his best hope for a majority vote on the council — against the wishes of her supporters.
Tran first announced his desire for a one-year vice mayor term in the interest of “shared leadership.” But Dominguez has characterized the move as a bullying tactic, proposing the mayor had problems with women in leadership.
The change in guard came despite an impassioned plea from Dominguez herself at a city council meeting last month to keep her post, with dozens of supporters packing the council chamber in support of the same.
The council had originally agreed to bring the item back on January 21, with Tuesday’s meeting serving only as an interim update regarding a city-backed survey on the issue.
Tran, however, was eager to push the item forward.
“Milpitas residents don’t have two weeks,” Tran said. “They don’t have two days.”
He added, “We don’t have time to wait around on any agenda item. I’m pushing the council to move harder and faster in 2020.”
The city survey received 84 responses, with residents voting overwhelmingly in favor of a directly-elected mayor and codifying the vice mayor’s term to two years. In other words, the majority did not support reducing the vice mayor’s term.
The survey followed a November discussion on a proposal made by Tran to change the vice mayoral term from its traditional two years to one year so as to rotate the vice mayoralty annually. Some community members — including Dominguez herself — characterized the proposal as “sexist,” “childish” and “petty,” saying Tran’s proposal was instead motivated to oust Dominguez from her position.
Tran, citing his own education in public administration, scoffed at the survey’s small sample size, despite the survey’s — according to Interim City Manager Steve McHarris — “statistically valid” methodology.
“Based on the sample size and the tool of the survey, there is no evidence that showed any true data of an informed decision,” Tran told The Beat.
For Dominguez however, the results — which favored a two-year vice mayor term by more than 42 percentage points — were clear: They expressed the will of survey participants who wanted her to stay put.
“It’s a lack of transparency,” Dominguez said about the proposal. “We agreed to bring this back in two weeks on the 21st [of January].”
She also took exception to deciding the matter this Tuesday, just days after the city’s holiday break.
“That’s not transparency,” Dominguez said. “That is not part of shared governance. That’s what makes people not be engaged,” she said, referring to the near-empty chamber.
Determined to come to a decision sooner rather than later, Tran nominated Councilmember Bob Nuñez to be his second-in-command, urging a council vote before the night was over.
“This nomination [of Nuñez] is based on three years of blood, sweat, and tears of his leadership,” said Tran. “I want to share the leadership.”
Nuñez himself introduced a motion to have two vice mayors serving concurrently, which would have kept Dominguez in her current post. Nuñez drew initial support from both Dominguez and Tran, but Nuñez’s proposal didn’t mature into a vote.
Dominguez, seemingly blindsided by Tran’s proposal, or at least the timing of it, offered a counter-proposal she originally thought was going to be heard in two weeks: The vice mayoralty would be awarded to the most senior councilmember, with the greater amount of popular votes serving as a tiebreaker.
Domignuez’s motion didn’t receive a second either.
The now-former vice mayor — as she did in December — rebuked Tran for being unable to look her in the eye to describe his motivation behind the item. When Dominguez bluntly asked the mayor if he could “look at me now,” a visibly uncomfortable Tran avoided her gaze and shuffled his papers instead.
Tran then declared flatly into his microphone that he couldn’t look Dominguez in the eye because he was busy taking notes.
In the end, Tran’s motion won out, with Nuñez and Councilmember Anthony Phan joining him in the majority. Both Dominguez and Councilmember Carmen Montano abstained.
With a handshake, Nuñez suddenly became the city’s new vice mayor. A visibly angry Dominguez stormed off the dais.
She didn’t return for the rest of the meeting.
Instead, while council was deliberating on the agenda’s next item, Dominguez took to Facebook Live to address her supporters.
“Tonight I’m calling out the mayor,” Dominguez proclaimed. “For his childishness, for his pettiness, for his sexist and bullying ways of governance tonight.”
She added, “There was a lack of transparency, a lack of community input,” citing no prior information about Tran’s motion.
“I cannot be part of that,” Dominguez said.
“Every councilmember has their own characteristics,” said Tran, who addressed the accusations with The Beat. “With Councilmember Dominguez, her responses are questionable.”
He continued, “When I advised against erasing Milpitas history by not supporting renaming Dixon Landing to Barack Obama Boulevard, I was called a bully. When I recommended that we create shared leadership and distribution of opportunity on the city council pertaining to the vice mayoralty, I was labeled a sexist and a racist. Folks know here in town that’s not the Milpitas way.”
Both Dominguez and Tran have criticized each other on voting records, council attendance, and communication.
“It’s hard to communicate with someone who is silent,” Dominguez told The Beat in a follow-up interview.
“But this isn’t conflict,” she clarified. “I respect the mayor as an individual, despite our differences.”
Tran however sees the issue of attendance in a different way.
“Time and time again, we’ve seen Councilmember Dominguez get up during a meeting and leave the chambers,” Tran said. “She has missed repeated votes on city business items. There’s been numerous times where there’s been four individuals on the dais. I expect there to be five.”
Tran also purported that Dominguez had given “zero proposals and zero requests” through the council’s rules committee.
“If he’s referring to me stepping out of council meetings because of his last-minute decisions,” Dominguez said, “I had to prioritize our community and let them know about these decisions. They’re confused. These are the surprises that no one knew about, including myself.”
“Which is sad,” she added. “Disgusting, actually.”
Dominguez, however, said she was confident in Nuñez’s leadership going forward.
As for Tran, he is hopeful councilmembers will put “their best foot forward for Milpitas families,” and denied rumors that the move was motivated by past difficulties with Dominguez.
“We had two vice mayors on this council,” Tran said, referring to Dominguez and Montano, who served as vice mayor under former Mayor Jose Esteves. “Now we have three vice mayors, and we’re stronger. A year from now hopefully we can have four, or even five.”
Tran added, “This decision I feel 100 percent strong with.”
Both Dominguez and Tran acknowledged the division that the issue has caused within the community. While she said she hasn’t seen any meaningful “growth” as a leader in Tran, she said she’s hopeful the mayor “is able to learn through these experiences.”
“Growth comes with looking at things differently,” she added. “I ask our community to not be afraid with being uncomfortable. I ask them to not look at differences as conflict, but as opportunities to grow as one community.”
Vice Mayor Bob Nuñez was not immediately available for comment.