Calls for civility and what passes as charges of mudslinging in Manteca municipal politics today assumes local politics in the Family City has been a lovey dovey affair over the years.
Nothing is farther from the truth. In reality, today’s campaign is downright gentlemanly.
The Manteca political equivalent of dropping the atomic bomb took place in 1983 with the recall of three council members — Mayor Trena, Kelly, Rick Wentworth, and Bobby Davis — over termination of popular Police Chief Leonard Taylor. It injected toxins into the community that took the better part of 25 years for the fallout to dissipate.
That led to the 1988 blowup over Yellow Freight when the City Council rejected the firm’s push to build a freight terminal on the south side of the Main Street and 120 Bypass interchange. The council majority had tried to get them to locate in an area that was already zoned for such use at Airport Way and the 120 Bypass but Yellow Freight dug in. The 3-2 vote led to opponents in subsequent elections using the rallying cry that there were only three issues that mattered to Manteca voters, “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
For years, Manteca council meetings were “must see TV” on Comcast Channel 97. Even die-hard San Francisco fans when the 49ers were on Monday night football and the council was still meeting on Monday nights admitted to switching back and forth between channels.
For years it was rare for a council meeting to pass without vicious personal attacks, heated exchanges, and enraged facial expressions among elected leaders. It was during this time that city managers wisely advised department heads to avoid “reacting” to verbal attacks or pointed lectures from council members by essential having blank facial expressions.
In the heyday of local political animosity it once took a record hour and 15 minutes to just approve the minutes of a previous council meeting due to line-by-line bickering. There was a council meeting that ran 8 hours and 15 minutes until 3:15 a.m. arguing over Big League Dreams for the 36th time — that is not an exaggeration — as well as a meeting that led to the San Joaquin County District Attorney investigating a council member’s complaint that she was threatened after a member of the public wagged his finger at her while speaking from the podium.
One of those marathon session that ended after 2 a.m. included a heated exchange — OK, an outright shouting match between two council allies minutes after they gavel was pounded. It was also the same meeting where fire personnel had to be summoned as one person who had been an audience member ended up having a stress related attack shortly after the meeting ended.
Then there was expensive infighting such as when the council majority hired special counsel for $25,000 to investigate whether the council minority was the subject of leaks from closed door sessions.
The late golf pro Alan Thomas after the council minority succeeded in getting the council to appoint a blue ribbon panel to investigate golf course operations and after spending six months and $15,000 came up with the bombshell report that the worst deficiencies they could agree on was sloppy maintenance of the men’s clubhouse restroom and outdated on-course restrooms, made the case golf politics in Manteca at the time were the direct result of people choosing sides in the 1983 recall.
Manteca’s reputation due to council-level antics got so bad that at one point a police chief relayed how it was tough to secure police officer candidates. He noted one officer the city recruited from Southern California and offered a job accepted it but then declined it after his grandmother who resided in Modesto told him Manteca was a crazy place based on what she read in area newspapers.
The recall fallout didn’t really go away until after the 2002 election. That’s the year Vince Hernandez made his successful run for office with signs boldly reading, “Heal Our City”.
That brings us to some observations made that Steve DeBrum and Ben Cantu somehow “hate” each other.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Although they have different views on how to get things done, they consider one another friends.
Both are longtime Kiwanis Club members. Both are Republicans as mayors in Manteca have been for at least 24 years straight. Both attend St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. Both have strong agricultural backgrounds. Both are involved in community activities although in different circles except for the Kiwanis (Cantu is in the Manteca Noon Kiwanis and DeBrum is in the Sunrise Kiwanis) and the Manteca Chamber of Commerce. DeBrum is also a past grand knight for the Knights of Columbus.
Cantu serves on the Valley CAPS board, is in the Knights of Columbus. is part of the Tidewater Railroad Club, and belongs to the Central Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
DeBrum is a past president of the Manteca Convention and Visitor's Bureau, and is also a past President of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce and former board member for the Manteca Boys and Girls Club.
And, as an added touch, both have been married to their brides for more than 50 years — Cantu to Mary and DeBrum to Veronica.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org