In a 2020 election season surprise, Milpitas City Councilmember Anthony “The Kid” Phan took the top spot in the council election, orchestrating a comeback that completely reversed the direction his political winds were sailing in just two years ago.
Two years back, Phan got widely lambasted for distributing a mailer against Mayor Rich Tran that employed racist Vietnamese tropes in the course of trying to administer a blow that failed to land. Phan wasn’t running for office at the time, but had positioned himself as a de facto opponent of the mayor’s. Tran initially urged Phan to resign, vowing to orchestrate the councilmember’s recall if he didn’t.
But Phan remained in his seat, handing the mayor a literal olive branch while seeding every relationship he could with positivity, ease, and warmth–and sticking to the issues on the dais. Eventually, Tran dropped the recall idea.
“People prefer the politics of optimism to the politics of fear,” Phan explained in an interview with The Milpitas Beat, repeating a vow to stay optimistic and never get back down in the dirt.
Regarding his recent victory, Phan said, “I’m honored that voters have put their trust and confidence in me to continue serving them.” Calling his work on the Milpitas City Council the honor of his lifetime, he added, “I cherish every moment and opportunity I have.”
As of now, Phan’s main priority is “Ensuring that our community is safe” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The same way the council worked on ensuring the widespread availability of COVID-19 testing, Phan hopes to help ensure the widespread availability of the COVID vaccine(s). Meanwhile, he breaks the city’s pandemic response down into three main areas of focus: the safety side, the medical side, and the economic side. Economy-wise, Phan hopes to help orchestrate more relief for the community while taking steps toward reinvigorating Milpitas’s economy on the whole.
On the safety side, Phan pointed to the Milpitas City Council’s face-covering ordinance, instituted early on in the pandemic: “It’s played a huge role in the number of cases from Milpitas. It’s relatively less than you see in other cities. I’m confident that the actions that we took made the community safer, and saved some lives here.”
“Wearing a mask,” Phan went on to state, “isn’t political. It shouldn’t be.”
In the meantime, Phan’s been working with a divided council when it comes to Project Homekey, the homeless housing project poised to soon launch at the Extended Stay America on Hillview Dr. He pointed out that in general, anything development-related tends to carry with it an air of controversy. But above all: “I’m hopeful that we retain our sense of decency and humanity.”
In other words, Phan hopes that the city council doesn’t resume trying to sue Santa Clara County to obstruct its Project Homekey plans, and in the interview he urged incoming Councilmember Evelyn Chua to not sue to block housing opportunities from those in desperate need of them.
Phan described a future scenario in which the Homekey site opened, offering shelter, stability, and hope to formerly homeless residents, only to end up kicking them back out onto the street due to a lawsuit. “That,” said Phan, “is unconscionable to me.”
As good news rolls out regarding Phase 3 trial results for COVID-19 vaccines under development by Pfizer and Moderna, Phan sounds a note of hopefulness. He also greeted the news of Joe Biden’s forthcoming presidency with optimism: “It restored my faith in America, in the work that I do, in government, in humanity…I look forward to a federal government that will be competent and more responsive to its constituents.”
In 2014, Phan was appointed by President Barack Obama, whom he refers to nostalgically as “the last great American president,” to serve in the Selective Service System, a federal agency, as a board member.
Phan’s new term will begin in advance of Biden’s, as of early December. Meanwhile, he is decompressing from his own tense, tough race. He shared that even when he expressed outward calm during the election cycle, “the reality was that I was desperately gasping for air…hanging onto my political life.”
He went on to say, “I did everything I could and more. The last three days during the election, I was still working. I sent out around 4,000 text messages. On the day of the election, 45 minutes before the polls closed, I was still Ubering voters to the polls–younger voters who didn’t have means of transportation. And I’ve been there before. And the point is that I didn’t take any vote for granted.”
Moreover, Phan emphasized that his main focus was not on himself, but on the concerns of the constituents he aims to serve: “Everyday Americans, their life continues after the campaign. All these fears, they still stay there. Just because the campaign ends, doesn’t mean that you get a job right away, that this virus goes away…”
In addition, said Phan, his campaign wasn’t so much a traditional reelection campaign as it was a clear, concerted vow to continue doing what he’s already been doing: acting with conscience, attending to the issues. “I’m just doing my job,” Phan explained, “as a councilmember.”