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OpinionMilpitas City Council race: What is going on in Rich Tran’s mind?

Milpitas City Council race: What is going on in Rich Tran’s mind?

Months back, Mayor Rich Tran announced his run for Milpitas City Council. The news came as no surprise: Tran is an ambitious and competitive political player who feels at home at City Hall and wants to make himself an installation there. What did come as something of a surprise, however, was Tran’s decision, thus far, to endorse every single one of his opponents. 

They are, as of today: Dipak Awasthi, Garry Barbadillo, Juliette Gomez, and Hon Lien

OK, yes: it’s a strong field, but is it strong enough that Tran would undergo a Christ-like conversion and actually start campaigning for everyone who’s running against him? What’s going on here? This is like Hulk Hogan going into a battle royal and refusing to throw any of his opponents over the top rope. Could you imagine something like that happening? Sure, maybe if Hulk Hogan was Santa Claus, and maybe, sure, if Santa Claus was Rich Tran. 

But I digress. 

To understand what Richard Tran is thinking, I offer 4 interpretations, none of which I am confident will plumb the man’s psychological depths, but all of which I’m certain will make for some ripe discussion…

Interpretation #1: The Benevolent Interpretation 

This one’s the most believable if you’re to take the Mayor at his word. The other day, my wife Rhoda, the founder of this newspaper, was interviewing Tran for another article and asked him wtf he was doing. He said he just wanted to support and uplift qualified people, for the better of Milpitas and thus the world—and presumably the species. Fair enough. Maybe he is like Santa Claus. Maybe he should trade his giant Mayor hat for a bright red Santa cap, and Ho-Ho-Ho around Milpitas carrying a sack filled with endorsements. I’m half-thinking of running just to see if he endorses me.

Interpretation #2: The Cynical Interpretation 

This one’s different. In this model, Tran is more like The Riddler than anyone else. Here, he’s turning the other 4 candidates against each other. He’s endorsing a stacked field so that his 4 opponents run hard yet cancel each other out, ushering him to victory. It makes sense insofar as he’s positioned himself as something of a City Council Candidate Team Captain. Where his opponents go, he goes. When they speak, he speaks. They dine together, hike together, fly-fish together, play lacrosse together, pose for photos together. But the common thread, among them all, is possible future City Councilmember Rich Tran. From a marketing standpoint, it’s pure genius: Tran’s the guacamole on the nachos, the Hershey Bar in the goodie bag—all roads inevitably lead back to him.

Interpretation #3: The Benevolent-Cynical Interpretation 

This one combines #1 and #2. It’s possible that Tran both (A) wants the best for everyone and (B) wants to win the race. But if somebody else wins (or 2 other people, since 2 Council seats are open this year), he gets to share in the victory, as the coach. And if he himself wins, he gets to have the victory, as the player. It would be a veritable masterpiece of a person having his cake and eating it, too. You know what? This interpretation is starting to sound kind of cynical!

Which leaves us with…

Interpretation #4: The Chua Interpretation 

According to Tran, he had no intention of running for City Council. That is, until Councilmember Evelyn Chua urged him to do so. So the plan was for Tran to hang his giant Mayoral hat on a giant hook, kicking his feet up and relaxing with less plans than John McClane upon arriving at Nakatomi Tower. But then Chua appeared on Tran’s front porch, kicking his door down, grabbing his lapels, and demanding that he run. So now Tran has to navigate his original plan (endorsing every candidate who runs) while honoring his new plan (pleasing Evelyn Chua).


Look, I’m not a psychotherapist. I’ve covered Tran for 5 years and I never know what he’s thinking. In fact, I’m not always sure Tran himself knows, either. Maybe this is like “Memento,” and Tran has a memory disorder whereby a past version of himself, intent upon winning a City Council seat, is clashing with a present version of himself, who just wants other candidates to win. Certainly, like the guy in “Memento,” Tran does have some nice tattoos.

Bottom line: It’ll be a race to watch. If Tran wins, he wins. If Tran loses, he wins. If Tran wins, Evelyn Chua wins. Barbadillo wins, Tran wins. Awasthi wins, Tran wins. Lien? Tran. Gomez? Tran. 

The rest is just politics as usual.

Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. He has won awards for journalism (CA Journalism Award) and screenwriting (Fade In Award), and has served as a ghostwriter, speechwriter, or script doctor for over 3,000 clients. His first novel is a dark political thriller called "Red Dennis" (2020). His first nonfiction book is a guide for helping writers be more productive called "Ass Plus Seat" (2020). He co-hosts the "House of Mystery Radio Show" on NBC News Radio. In 2023, Eric founded the Psychic Arts Center, dedicated to exploring psychic phenomena and assisting people through psychic readings.


  1. Prediction: Tran backs out of the City Council race by the 18th, when the filing fee is due, So that he can run for School Board where he is severely unqualified.

  2. As an “Art of War” strategy, Tran’s “endorse everyone” move makes a lot of sense in that it keeps his competitors from attacking him. As long-time Council member Bob Livengood pointed out decades ago, lots of candidates on the ballot makes it easier for the incumbent to win. Tran has extended that strategy. The real question is, “What does he do with the power he garners?” There should be a clear answer after leading the City for 6 years as Mayor.

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