At tonight’s City Council meeting, Council will decide whether or not to move forward on rotating out Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez and giving another existing Councilmember (presumably Bob Nuñez or Anthony Phan, since Carmen Montano has already served as Vice Mayor in the past) a shot at the City’s #2 position.
A new Vice Mayor could be chosen on the spot.
Tran presented the idea of the rotation at the last Council meeting, framing it as an opportunity to promote the idea of shared leadership. Dominguez initially extended her support, but soon took to social media to issue a forceful objection to the move, saying she was being bullied and sidelined as a woman of color in a public position of power.
Tran, who supported Dominguez’s run for office and appointed her to the Vice Mayor role, has repeatedly cited civil motives on his part. Not backing down, Dominguez has insisted that what the mayor has proposed is not only personal, but of a piece with commonplace attacks by men in power on women and people of color.
In a sense, they’re having two different fights in two different vernaculars, with the Mayor avoiding personal language and the Vice Mayor keeping matters resolutely based in the personal and emotional.
Tran’s not winning.
The road to hell is paved by guessing at people’s motives. Tran alone knows what drives him now. The problem is, Dominguez, when appointed, expected to serve for two years in the Vice position. When Tran steered the Council in a new direction, he caught the Vice Mayor unaware, in public, and at present he’s having trouble shaking off the perception that it was an attack. Add to this the history of tension between Tran and Dominguez on the dais, and it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to start teasing out alternatives to the official history.
This leaves the mayor with two choices.
The first is: He goes negative against Dominguez. It’s not his style, as he avoids the personal, but it might help him to regain traction in the narrative. If he’s indeed being guided by the conviction that his Vice Mayor is unfit to serve, and he shares the reasons why with Milpitas at large, he’ll be able to gather support and gain alignment from those inclined to be troubled by her unfitness. It’ll be a battle, however, that’s for sure, as Dominguez is a fearless opponent, and not prone to backing down no matter what title comes before her name.
The second is: He goes positive about Dominguez. He ends the tension, shelves the proposal, and returns to the spirit of solidarity which propelled his initial support of her in 2018. With this, the whole issue would go away, at least as far as the public’s dismay over a divided Council and the anger of Dominguez and her supporters are concerned. The problem here is, however, that if Tran would indeed prefer to have Dominguez out, then he would still have to move forward with her occupying the #2 spot.
What’s not working, at present, is the middle option, the one he’s going with now, whereby he preserves an affable and neutral surface and repeats that this is all about shared power. It’s not working because by not saying anything too positive about Dominguez, Tran’s fueling the notion that he’s actually against her. Likewise, by not saying anything negative about Dominguez, he’s raising fierce suspicions that there’s simply more to the story. For if there wasn’t, why interrupt her anticipated term?
This is the first time in Mayor Rich Tran’s political career that he can’t get the political winds under his control. He’s long proven masterful at controlling the narrative, and/or getting ahead of the story. On Facebook, he has nearly 5,000 followers routinely engaging with him, in support of the likable hometown boy who took two mayoral elections with the ease of someone at the store buying candy.
He’s met his match now. Dominguez is popular and well-liked, too. And a Facebook post from Tran yesterday objecting to being characterized as racist and sexist resulted in a flurry of detractors taking him on. (To be fair, he drew a couple of supporters, as well, but this isn’t like last year’s incident, when the Council rebuked him and countless citizens showed up at his back, pledging their allegiance.)
What now, then? Dominguez’s communication style is connecting presently. By keeping it personal and emotional, she’s making Tran’s upstanding aloofness instead seem vague and avoidant.
To regain control, the Mayor must gain clarity. Full disclosure: I expect him to ignore this editorial. For the mayor’s strength, and his weakness, is a mighty stubborn streak. He bears not the patience for unsolicited advice. And he occupies a post most humans cannot comprehend.
But the view from the cheap seats shows him losing traction. And if he insists upon being stubborn now, no political winds might blow in to right his sails.