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Moorhead changes dynamics of race for Manteca mayor

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POSTED June 11, 2010 2:37 a.m.
Get ready for one of the most polite - and possibly closest - races for mayor Manteca has ever seen.

Debby Moorhead’s entry into the mayor’s race Thursday means all bets are off on either Mayor Willie Weatherford having a distinct advantage or challenger Ben Cantu being able to build a clear advantage from name recognition garnered in the last council election and his years as a municipal planner. Samuel Anderson is also a declared candidate who could play the spoiler in his role as the only true outsider. Moorhead levels the playing field and at the same time probably puts herself in the best position for a number of reasons.

• Right or wrong, an anti-incumbent attitude is in vogue that may reach all the way down to the local level by the time Nov. 2 rolls around.

• Moorhead is female. Women have done extremely well in Manteca elections when they have won with virtually everyone winning in their first outing including the late Trena Kelley who ended up as Manteca’s first directly elected mayor.

• The fact Moorhead is a council incumbent could be a negative but given how Cantu stresses his active role in shaping many development policies for over two decades before retiring as senior city planner, he too can be painted with the “those in power” aspect of incumbency.

• Moorhead has a high public profile thanks to being executive director of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce.

Regardless of how the race is handicapped at this stage, one thing is for sure: This will be a race involving manners and not throat cutting although Anderson has a reputation for being more than strident.

Weatherford, Cantu, and Moorhead are all sincere when they say they respect each other. In fact, they are all members of the same service club - the Manteca Noon Kiwanis. They have disagreed in the past without wielding an ax to bury in the other guy’s back. In other words, they are cordial and don’t throw a fit when they don’t get their way nor do they resort to personal attacks. That said they all do have differences in their views although Cantu could argue that Weatherford and Moorhead are more alike than different.

Weatherford - who has the demeanor of Sheriff Taylor on the old Andy Griffith Show - was elected near the end of the rough and tumble era of Manteca municipal politics that made what has been happening of late in Lathrop look like a love fest.

In his first four years as mayor, not only did civility return to council meetings but the ending of animosity allowed the city to move forward on a number of projects. You may disagree with what has happened in the past six years, but there can be little argument that a lot more things got done than in the previous six years and that Manteca has positioned itself well.

That obviously wasn’t accomplished by one person but the entire council since contrary to popular belief the mayor isn’t as strong as a lot of people like to think. The mayor basically runs the meetings, acts as the main elected official at ceremonies, and makes appointments that must be approved by the council. The mayor is essentially one of five votes.

The mayor’s post, though, has a lot of emotions attached to it by people.

Four years ago things had been going so well that Weatherford became the first elected mayor not to have any opposition.

Cantu has been shaping up as a formidable candidate as he has been running a low-key campaign for mayor since just missing out on being elected to the council in 2008.

There is one thing that can totally upset the apple cart of anyone’s version of conventional wisdom and that’s Samuel Anderson.

He is the only outsider in the race.

Anderson’s biggest drawback, though, is how he campaigns. He pulls no punches to the point his campaign can take on the feeling of an ultimate fight match instead of political sparring.

If Anderson keeps to message and resists launching into personal attacks, he could prove to be a major factor and even has a realistic outside shot as there is a strong possibility you will see a horse race between Cantu, Weatherford, and Moorhead.

Anderson can capitalize on his position as being the only “alternative choice” providing he tones down the rhetoric significantly.

In doing so, he would still be running his campaign on his terms as once you sweep away the tone his views of how to do things contrasts sharply with the other three.

Whether you agree with any of the preceding assessment there is one thing that is indisputable. Moorhead’s entry into the mayor’s race has significantly changed the dynamics.

It should be an interesting fall to say the least.
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