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Crowded field emerging in Lathrop council race
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LATHROP – The race for the two Lathrop City Council seats up for grabs in November looks like it’ll be a heated one.

Eleven have drawn the papers necessary to run for the available positions – Councilwoman Martha Salcedo’s term expires this year and Councilman Christopher Mateo has thrown his hat in the ring for a seat in the California State Assembly. There are four people that have taken out papers but have yet to return them. Possible candidates have until Wednesday to turn in the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot since Mateo opted not to seek re-election.

There are two candidates for mayor - current Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal – and incumbent Joseph “Chaka” Santos.

With a mixture of past council members, repeat candidates and political newcomers all vying for the two spots, the election will alter not only the makeup of the city’s governing body but also shape its financial future as well. A one-cent sales tax increase aimed at creating fiscal stability will also be before voters.

As of Monday night, seven people had qualified for the ballot  including Salcedo. They will soon be launching a campaign to solicit votes from fellow Lathrop residents.

Turning in nomination papers were political newcomers Omar Khweiss, Paul Akinjo, and Gary Hutchins,  longtime Lathrop resident Debbie Rock and 2010 candidates Brent Maynor and Joey Ermitanio.

Former councilman Steve Dresser indicated Monday night that he’ll file everything before the deadline. Dan MacNeilage as well as Balwant Sandu and Rosalinda Valencia will have until Wednesday  to submit signatures from 20 registered voters.

The candidates that are running so far are:


•Debbie Rock – The wife of former mayoral candidate John Rock, Rock said that she’s looking forward to the opportunity to representing a community that she has called her home since 1990 and subsequently giving the people an informed and responsible elected official they can believe in and count on

 “Personally, I think that the council needs a change,” said the nuclear security administrative specialist. “I’m all about policy and procedures and making sure that I read things before I vote and take action – taking input from the community and getting responses to questions that I may need.

“I want to get the community more involved with the council and this political process. That what it’s supposed to be about.”

•Dan MacNeilage – In the six years that he was a part of the Lathrop Planning Commission, MacNeilage – a retired construction superintendent – is hoping that his experience in the planning for South and Central Lathrop will make him a clear choice to voters that know him and the integrity that he possesses.

Some of the mudslinging that has plagued past election cycles, he said, is something he’d like to see done away with, but that doesn’t prevent the active volunteer – who has slowed somewhat recently for personal reasons – from pointing out certain things that he’d like to see changed for the betterment of all involved.

“One of my growing concerns, and it’s something that I’ve seen happen over and over and over again, is the rising cost of water that we use in this community,” he said. “I had a neighbor, and she has subsequently passed, but she used to say that she paid her water bill before she bought her medications. Now I know that there have been some changes made and some attempts to ease the burden, but we have a system, in my opinion, that has room for improvement.

“We had an election last time around that full of character assassination and negativity, and I think that I can be a strong, positive voice this time around.”

•Paul Akinjo – Just because you commute to work doesn’t mean you can’t be active in your community.

That’s what Paul Akinjo – an Internet technology analyst that moved to Lathrop just over a decade ago and commutes to the Bay Area for work – wants people to understand when they head to the polls.

Even though the majority of his work week is spent outside of Lathrop, Akinjo said he still has concerns about the amount of construction taking place on the West side of Interstate 5 – a natural flood barrier that was barricaded under in 1997 as an emergency precaution – without regard to the inevitable.

He’d much rather work in the community he says he loves and would be honored to represent, but a lack of jobs has kept him planted in the Bay Area from Monday through Friday.

“I think that it’s time to let people know that we’re concerned,” he said. “From home construction to transportation to jobs – there are things that need to be looked at in this community.”

•Omar Khweiss – The Marine Corps took Omar Khweiss a lot of places during the time he served.

And little did he know that the last orders he would receive – Sharpe Army Depot – would land him in the community where he would lay down roots.

A native of Queens, Khweiss loved the ability to enjoy nature and watch a community grow around him – something that wasn’t afforded to him growing up in New York City. But with a growing family and a chance to see a community take root, he was captivated by what was unfolding around him.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the ability to walk the Delta, experience the city’s tranquility while watching my kids play peacefully with others, and literally watching buildings erect and businesses come to fruition,” Khweiss said. “Coming from a big city, everything was already in place. But having the opportunity to literally watch a city grow, business by business – street by street – was very exciting and inspiring to me.

“The growth potential dynamic is very encouraging. Also, the love our residents bestow upon those that serve and have served our nation shows a great deal of patriotism and respect that is second to none.”

And if elected, he has big plans for his post on the council.

“I feel I can bring a fresh perspective to the city council with my business experience as a leader, event coordinator and member of the local business community,” he said. “Our city has a great deal of potential, and a legacy that was carved out by many great and proud residents that have come before and that still remain.

“I intend to maintain and enhance that legacy by introducing a stronger level of professionalism, dignity, consistency and pride to this council that will help to unite all of the members of the dais and enhance our city’s level of effectiveness.”

•Brent Maynor – After moving to Lathrop four years ago from Modesto to escape rising crime, computer programmer Brent Maynor wanted to get involved with the community.

So he jumped right in.

Currently serving as a Parks and Recreation Commissioner, Maynor has been tapped to serve on three mayor’s committees and hopes that his ground level exposure to local government will be able to launch a political career that will stretch beyond Lathrop’s dais.

But first he wants to focus on the things, he says, that need to be addressed in the community.

“I’d say that the top thing is getting Lathrop-Manteca Fire District back on par with the national average – it’s tragically undermanned right now for a district its size,” he said. “I think that public safety is something that’s very important to me. I moved to this community because I enjoyed the unique feel it had and the lack of crime, and the crime has been increasing lately, and we need to make sure that our emergency services are adequately funded.

“I also want to make this area more business friendly to attract jobs that will allow people to work right here in this community. We should be able to entice businesses instead of having people community back and forth to the Bay Area. Let’s bring those jobs here to Lathrop.”

•Steve Dresser – If the election was decided on paper, Dresser’s curriculum vitae would surely land him another term.

But instead he’s going to champion the same things that he always has – promoting the family values that he believes helps make Lathrop the livable and lovable community that so many people enjoy being a part of.

“I think that I have the previous experience, and people know me and know what it is that I stand for,” said the former councilmember. “I stand for family values, public safety and growth where it’s appropriate. I think that we have good people right now but there’s a bit of a learning curve with this.

“When you’re not thinking about what’s best for the community, you lose track of the important things like family values and public safety and you can’t let things like that suffer. I want to bring that perspective back to the council.”