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Targeting Cantu: Since when is using playground bullying tactics acceptable behavior?
cantu old city hall
Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu in front of the old City Hall on Sycamore Avenue.

I see it almost every week – a “grown” adult throwing around childish insults about political parties or candidates.

Gavin NewSCUM. DemonRATS.

And I just roll my eyes and keep on scrolling knowing full well that whoever would stoop to that level – and resort to the ad hominem attack out of the gate without being able to express their distaste for the candidate or the party like a grownup would – isn’t even worth engaging with.

However, it becomes even more problematic when those insults start leaking down to the local level.

Say what you will about Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu – CantDO to the playground bullies – and the way that he conducts himself as the city’s top elected official, but I don’t see any scenario where petty personal insults do anything but sow more division.

It’s almost comical when you see somebody that parrots a phrase like that and then ask them why they don’t like him. It becomes immediately transparent that they have little clue about how local government works, and what he’s technically responsible for.

I’ve seen people slam him over schools not reopening. It doesn’t matter that he has absolutely nothing to do with the operation of the Manteca Unified School District in his elected capacity, but that doesn’t stop people from making him the scapegoat for whatever issue happens to have them riled up at the time.

And, most recently, he has become the target of the lantern-and-pitchfork posse that is growing larger by the day – alleged to be personally responsible for the ousting of former Manteca Police Chief Jodie Estarziau.

Let me preface this by saying that I liked Jodie. I think it’s sad that she spent 25 years faithfully serving the City of Manteca – working her way up the ladder to assume the chief’s chair – only for her tenure to be marred by a drastic shakeup at City Hall.

I would even go so far as to say that she got a bum wrap with the way that it was handled – put on ice for months only to be quietly let go via a press release at the same time that the new police chief was hired to keep the ship afloat.

But the last time I checked, the city’s mayor doesn’t have the power to hire or fire anybody. The only position that he has any direct influence over is that of the city manager, and even then, it’s only as one-fifth of a voting body – a majority is needed to make a decision like that. While careless speculation and wanton slander have been plentiful over the last few months – spurred by so-called “journalists” that are operating well outside of any sort of ethical responsibility to the truth – there is no concrete or logical proof that any of what is being alleged is true.

People are getting played.

I can fully understand why the emotion is running high over this topic as I stated above that the optics of how everything went down leave a little to be desired. But operating solely on emotion or allegiance in pursuit of actual truth blinds people to the realities of the situation and the fact that the truth literally can’t come at this time.

The City of Manteca cannot publicly disclose what led-up to the investigation and the decision to place the police chief on leave, and I can’t see any scenario where the former police chief would volunteer that information to the public – especially not when litigation is still very much a possibility.

There is nobody in any sort of authoritative position on the subject that can offer any sort of on-the-record verification. Therefore, everything is just pure speculation at this point.

For the record – four-fifths of the council voted in the city manager that ultimately made that decision. With that in mind, I can’t see how Cantu is being propped up as the sole reason for Estarziau’s dismissal. Ignoring the fact that he himself didn’t make the decision, I find it hard to believe that in working behind the scenes he convinced not one or two but three other members of the council to go along with him.

And since then none of those people have come out and defended that decision by claiming that they were pressured or goaded into voting the way that they did.

While the court of public opinion might not operate on any sort of logical basis, the Superior Court of California – which could very well weigh in on the matter before its all said and done – absolutely does. As does the San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury which is reportedly in the middle of an investigation into the highly-publicized personnel shakeups that I admit fully were jarring when they all came to light.

But until either of those entities returns some sort of concrete fact that improprieties abounded, I think that it’s irresponsible – and reckless – to push a narrative that literally cannot be proven one way or the other.

Speculation is not fact, and it’s highly unfortunate that people who should know better have forgotten that. It gives false hope to those who are emotionally impacted by the topic by hand, and it further erodes and destroys the integrity of an institution that above all else is based on serving the public.

It’s hard not to see this as part of an orchestrated political move – with someone pulling the puppet strings – much the same way Gary Singh became the target of the same political attacks.

Say what you will about Ben Cantu. 

But making him the scapegoat for something before there is any clear, court-quality evidence to support such line of thinking needs to be called outright for what it is.


To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.