And just like that, the whole game has changed.
Richard Q. Tran, the 3-term 17th Mayor of Milpitas, has revealed his intention to become #19, as well. In doing so, he would become an opponent of current Mayor Carmen Montano, whom he fervently endorsed in her run last year.
Tran’s a wild animal. He knocks on doors. He runs to win. It doesn’t matter that his 3rd term was characterized by the citizens of Milpitas constantly piling on him on his Facebook page. It doesn’t matter that he has a reputation for clashing with his colleagues, so much so that when the Merc endorsed him before his 3rd term, they wrote, “We are disappointed that Tran has been at the center of the council’s ongoing infighting. He has bickered with Councilwoman Karina Dominguez and led the effort in January to remove her as vice mayor over differences on affordable housing and his opposition to her wanting to change the name of Dixon Landing Road to Barack Obama Boulevard. Whatever his differences with his colleagues, Tran needs to find more constructive ways to work them out.”
So much so that he once said to me that he liked promoting a “competitive environment” on the Milpitas City Council, so that the councilmembers were encouraged to try their hardest.
Imagine Steve Kerr instilling a competitive environment on The Golden State Warriors, only instead of competing against their opponents, they went out there every night and tried to defeat each other.
But I digress.
Tran’s hard to beat, and his opponents know it. The same way every superhero’s strength and weakness tend to be the same exact trait (for Batman, for example, it’s his dark and fractured psyche), Tran’s strength-and-weakness is his stubbornness. He knows what he wants. He never loses a debate (at least not in his mind). He’s dialed into a proud and prominent component of the Milpitas populace, a sort of old school, down home, football-loving, backyard-barbecuing sect that appreciates working class values and weekend family gatherings. Tran’s talking directly to them with his handy campaign slogan, which I have little doubt he’ll break out again this time: “Milpitas Families First.”
This transcends politics or ideology. Tran’s with the people. He’s a back-patter, a laugher, a compliment-giver. He knows how to make you feel good after you’ve seen him. There’ve been times over the years when I’ve been outright incensed with him, only to run into him somewhere and walk away thinking, “Wow, what a swell guy…”
He’s beatable, though, if his opponents are willing to fight as hard and deep as he is. Let’s look at how a few of his prospective competitors might fare in ‘24…
MAYOR CARMEN MONTANO
Montano appeals to the same pool of voters as Tran, which is why they’ve been politically aligned and even out on the campaign trail together before Tran unveiled his intention of unseating her. She also works really hard when campaigning, knocking on every door and engaging with every constituent. Her name recognition and political longevity reach back further into Milpitas history than those of anyone else mentioned in this article, and she’s adopted an impassioned, optimistic leadership style that generally steers clear of scandal. Head to head, she and Tran could see a very tight race, the same way 2022’s pair of progressive candidates, Anthony Phan and Karina Dominguez, canceled each other out when the votes were tallied. Montano is uniquely suited to beat Tran at his own game, so if she pounds the pavement and stays consistent, the raw numbers could add up in her favor. Now speaking of…
COUNCILMEMBER ANTHONY PHAN
I like Anthony Phan. I find him to be refreshing, and a potential representative of the Milpitas I want (current, relevant, excited) rather than the Milpitas we have (traditional, underestimated, subdued). I think Milpitas would be rewarded by giving Anthony Phan a shot at the mayor’s seat. He’s a markedly contemporary option — analytical, sincere, and even wonkish in his mindset. I also enjoy his natural passion and charisma, and have a tough time looking away from his awesome hair (enjoy it while it lasts, kid; the ride goes quick…). To beat Tran, Phan has to better acclimate voters to his charms and kindness. He might be too cool for some people. To many, despite having served for years as a councilmember, Phan remains something of an enigma. He took his last loss hard, having come in 2nd, but if he regroups and shows the voters that he’s a well-intentioned and trustworthy player, he’ll have a clear, legitimate shot. He just has to get in front of as many people, face-to-face, as possible. And he has to hope not to split the vote with…
FORMER COUNCILMEMBER KARINA DOMINGUEZ
Dominguez and Tran famously and repeatedly clashed while on the council together, to the point where, had we wanted to, The Milpitas Beat could have started copy-and-pasting our existing articles about their fights each time we had to cover a new one. Their dichotomy was very much a microcosm of the Democratic Party during the Trump years, with Dominguez representing far-left social justice activism and Tran representing moderate classical liberalism (while sometimes acting like Trump himself on social media). Dominguez walked hard for her seat; I recall my wife saying she had seen her out on the sidewalk just a day or two before she won her council race, still out walking near the tail end of a long, bruising campaign. To beat Tran, Dominguez would be wise to steer clear of reliving their old battles and critiquing him — something that he’s prone to ignoring (note: he never attacks his opponents personally) and that the public is divided on in any case. But by offering a clear alternative vision for Milpitas, Dominguez could restore her political standing and gain a pathway.
More than anything, what sells on the campaign trail in Milpitas is straight-up connectivity with the city’s residents. Everybody named above has connected; everybody above has won some very tough elections.
But Rich Tran’s shown an ability to connect with force. Being Mayor of Milpitas means the world to him. He acts like he’s in The Olympics when he runs. You can mock him for that, or you can laud him.
But to beat him, one has to reach deep down inside and find the will to somehow run faster.