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Manteca mayor hopefuls make campaign pitches before GOP group
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It wasn’t  exactly a heavyweight fight with jabs being alternated between candidates.

But among the three hopefuls that showed up to the South San Joaquin County Republicans meeting Monday night to introduce themselves as candidates for Manteca City Council the barbs were still there as the three men – incumbent Mayor Willie Weatherford, retired planner Ben Cantu, and political newcomer Richard Behling (fellow candidate Samuel Adams was absent) made their case before roughly 100 people who turned out at Chez Shari for the meeting.

Cantu – who spent 35 years as a city planner and had a hand in most if not all of the major projects that have come to town in the last four decades – was the first of the trio to take the stage for his five-minute comment session, and wasted no time in diving right in as to why he wants to be mayor.

“I’m the one candidate that has the most life experience here in the community,” Cantu said after introducing himself.

As a lifelong Californian and a lifelong Mantecan, Cantu said he’s concerned about the direction that the city is currently headed – something he estimated happens every 8 to 10 years with the city council.

“I think the council is ignoring the community and focusing on the wrong things,” he said. “They believe that the city is getting better because of the sales tax increase.

“Unfortunately people forget priorities, and I want to make Manteca first. I want to complete some of the amenities that the city has been waiting for almost 40 years. The city council will say that there isn’t any money for things right now, but that’s because they’ve backed themselves in the corner like they do about once a decade. This community is no better than it was 40 years ago, and that’s something that I want to change.”

Mayor Willie Weatherford – who served a term as a councilman before being successfully elected to the position of mayor twice – once served on what some might have considered a hostile council where votes were fractured down the middle and a tie-breaker was common to break the stalemate.

Since then, he said, the city has adopted a structured deficit to reflect trends of the last 30 years, and that has helped keep the municipality financially solvent during that time.

“You base your budget on projected revenue, and in the last eight years our taxes (from) businesses has risen over $60 million. We’ve also brought 20,000 jobs to Manteca and we’re going to keep plugging away. And right now we’re working on a business that’s going to bring another 2,000 jobs to Manteca.”

Behling, who was the first to admit that he has no political experience, referred to the five-member decision-making panel as cheerleaders, and called out Weatherford – who said he served basically as a figurehead position – for having the power to hire and fire the city manager which goes above and beyond the standard-powerless mayor position.

Actually, the council as a whole, and not the mayor, has the power to hire and fire city managers as outlined in the California constitution governing general law cities. Weatherford, as mayor does set the tone, though.

And while his lack of political experience may put him at a disadvantage, Behling ended his five minutes with a quote from Ronald Reagan that he says resonated with him for the bulk of his adult life.

“You haven’t loved until you’ve served and given back,” he said. “Until then, you don’t realize what your community is all about.”

Behling is seeking one of the two council seats currently held by Vince Hernandez and John Harris. There are three declared mayoral candidates so far - Weatherford, Cantu, and Samuel Adams.