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Steve DeBrum versus Ben Cantu: The 2.0 version

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POSTED January 13, 2018 1:31 a.m.

Ben Cantu — after debating whether to make his fifth run for elective city office in Manteca a race for the council or for mayor — has opted to do a repeat of the 2014 mayor’s race.
He’ll be facing incumbent Steve DeBrum on the Nov. 6 ballot. DeBrum defeated Cantu, 5,494 to 3,110 votes four years ago.
There are two of schools of thought about which of the two options Cantu should have taken.
One, given that incumbent Councilman Richard Silverman decided not to seek re-election to one of the two council seats revived a point in the 2014 election when neither council incumbent opted to run again. Many thought he stood a solid chance of getting elected given he had the highest name recognition in a field of newcomers. He opted instead to run for mayor. This time around the field isn’t as wide open as Mike Morowit is seeking a second term but name recognition should have given Cantu an advantage to a degree over new contenders.
The other school of thought is Cantu can’t resist running for mayor on the assumption it gives him more clout for his policy objectives. At first glance that seems to be a bit of wishful thinking given the mayor is just one of five votes on the council although the mayor has the power of appointment to commissions and committees — with the affirmation of the majority of the council — as well as runs and sets the tone of council meetings while being the city’s top figurehead for ceremonial events.
Cantu — who some say is akin to Manteca’s version of Don Quixote tilting at windmills or Manteca’s Harold Stassen who was the politician that ran unsuccessfully 10 times for the Republican presidential nomination after serving three terms as Minnesota’s governor — is zeroing in on how the mayor can and does set the tone.
That viewpoint is best reflected in the years Carlon Perry was mayor and the following 12-year reign as Willie Weatherford as mayor.
Perry often was in the minority when he was mayor. That didn’t prevent him, however, from effectively stopping or slowing down the council majority. The best example was Big League Dreams that the council majority favored but Perry was able to successfully delay it from going forward until the city secured even more favorable terms. He ended up still voting against the BLD deal.
One of his maneuvers as mayor was to put public comment at the front of the meeting agenda and to basically allow speakers to talk without having to worry about time limits. Woodward Park area residents who Perry sided with that didn’t want BLD built in their neighborhood used that time meeting after meeting to continue hammering their point. It wasn’t unusual for public comment to run an hour to two hours before the council got to agenda items.
After being elected mayor, Weatherford flipped public comments to the back of the agenda and got the council to agree to restrict speaking time to three minutes unless the council majority had no problem with the time limit being exceeded. Big League Dreams also moved forward with minimal delays after that.
DeBrum after being mayor for a period put public comment back at the front of the meeting.
The BLD incident — and how city staff was reacting to a mayor who was in the minority most of the time while the council majority wasn’t being assertive — underscores Cantu’s point about the mayor setting the tone.
Cantu promises this campaign will be different. He intends to continue focusing on solutions without extensively rehashing what he sees as past sins of the city when he stresses experience and knowledge he gleaned from over 30 years as a city planner.
In a conversation several months ago when he was still pondering whether to run for council or mayor, Cantu said he needed to step up his door-to-door effort to overcome the high profile that DeBrum enjoys.
He also has enlisted the help of David Cushman to help with his campaign. Cushman ran for the council in 2016 and was going to run this year until a new employment opportunity did not make that practical. Cantu noted that Cushman and he share many of the same viewpoints on city issues.
Cantu believes DeBrum will need to raise substantially more money than he did in the 2014 race to try and beat him. Cantu ventured a guess the incumbent might need to raise as much as $100,000.
DeBrum raised $46,404 for the 2014 race while Cantu raised less than $10,000.
It is worthy to note that despite having philosophical differences when it comes to city government, DeBrum and Cantu have an amicable relationship.
Both also happen to be Kiwanis members — DeBrum with the Sunrise Kiwanis that stages the Pumpkin Fair and funds a host of other events such as the Fourth of July parade with the proceeds and Cantu with the Manteca Kiwanis that stages the Fourth of July breakfast and community Easter egg hunt.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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