In a Facebook post from this past Sunday, November 4, Milpitas’ Mayor Rich Tran, who’s running for reelection, shared an image of an election mailer distributed by the South Bay SV Community Coalition PAC, which juxtaposed a photograph of Tran against a Vietnamese flag and read in Vietnamese, “Who is this yellow star going to be fighting for?”
Tran also posted a pair of screenshots making the case that Milpitas Councilmember Anthony Phan was behind the mailer’s circulation. The first shot contained data on the PAC from the Cal-Access website, which can be accessed here.
The second shot came from the website of a Silicon Valley public affairs and communications firm called Invictus Strategy, showing Phan as its President of Public Affairs & Land Development.
The pair of screenshots were linked by a common phone number, shared by both the South Bay SV Community Coalition PAC and Invictus Strategy. In addition, the same phone number was listed as Anthony Phan’s contact number when he ran for Milpitas City Council in 2016.
As such, Tran traced the mail item to Phan, and called on Phan to resign: “He is responsible for the hate mailer associating me with with the Communist Vietnamese government,” Tran wrote. “It’s just as extreme as if it were the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazi’s, in the Vietnamese American refugee community.”
Tran went on to share personal details from his family history, recalling how his mother fled Communist Vietnam with his aunt by boat. Tran’s aunt did not survive the journey, but his mother was rescued and ensured safe passage to the U.S.
“This hate mail,” Tran wrote, “cannot be anymore painful for my family.”
Milpitas’ Van Lan Truong, who has a lengthy track record as a Vietnamese advocate and community organizer, explained to The Beat over email, “The yellow star with the red background is the Vietnamese Communist Party Flag, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. If Richard’s picture is right on it, with the wording that said ‘Richard Tran a gold star is fighting for whom?’(or who is this gold star fighting for?), then it is implied that Richard is a member or a sympathizer of the Vietnamese Communist. As you are aware, the Vietnamese American Community [overseas] is strongly anti-communist, since we were former refugees escaping the Viet Communist in 1975. Over the past 4 decades, the Vietnamese community has been and is continuously advocating for Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights for Vietnam. The Yellow background with three Red Stripes Flag is our Flag, which symbolizes Freedom and Democracy, a Flag of Republic of South Vietnam, and is widely accepted [overseas] (outside of Vietnam).”
Mayor Tran also highlighted his own status as an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces while describing Phan as a person with “no regard or honor for others.”
Councilmember Phan, who is the first Vietnamese-American City Councilman in Milpitas history, drew attention this past February when he targeted Milpitas’ then-planning director (who has since left his position with the City of Milpitas) with verbal criticism during a public City Council meeting, threatening to schedule an employee performance evaluation despite the fact that Milpitas City Councilmembers have no broad authority to fire City employees. Around the same time, Phan pushed back against allegations that he misrepresented the origins of a $43,000 campaign loan, a matter that he attributed to the efforts of “political adversaries.”
“This special interest,” Tran continued in his Facebook post, in reference to the South Bay SV Community Coalition PAC, “is not registered on the city website and there is no documentation to be found. That would be illegal.”
The Milpitas Beat was unable to find a website or any online reference to the PAC, aside from that noted above from the Cal-Access website.
At the low end, direct mail campaigns cost 30 cents per piece sent; at the high end, $2.50 per. The last U.S. Census, in 2010, counted 19,184 households in Milpitas. At the low end, Milpitas candidates and special interests have been spending between $5,000 and $6,000 on their political direct mail blasts. The mailer under discussion can presently only be routed to a phone number belonging to Anthony Phan.
Milpitas City Clerk Mary Lavelle wrote to us by email, “All campaign committees formed in California file initially with the Secretary of State Political Reform Division, which issues the ID #. A copy of the Form 410 is supposed to be filed with the local filing official (that’s me) but I did not receive such a copy regarding the Committee you named.”
Meaning the South Bay SV Community Coalition PAC never filed in Milpitas.
Tran concluded his post by stating, “If there is no resignation, there will be a recall.”
According to California recall procedure guidelines, recalling Phan would require signatures equaling 20% of our jurisdiction’s total registered voters. During the 2016 election, 26,219 residents of Milpitas were registered to vote, so if that figure has remained consistent, 5,244 city voters would have to sign in favor of recalling Anthony Phan.
As of this morning, according to Tran’s campaign manager Justin Lardinois, Tran’s campaign has filed a complaint regarding this matter with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
A call from The Beat to the above-referenced phone number confirmed that it belongs to Councilmember Phan (with Phan himself speaking and introducing himself on the voicemail greeting, rather than naming Invictus or the PAC), but Phan did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
The 2018 election occurs tomorrow.