LATHROP – When Lathrop Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos is on a roll he can seem larger than life.
His eccentric personality – one of the things that helps make him both beloved and bemoaned by many in the community – seems to take over a room as soon as he walks in. His joking and laid-back demeanor seem to make smiles the norm for those caught up in his tornado of energy.
But a funny thing happens when he starts talking about Lathrop. The laughter lines disappear. His eyes engage. He focuses as the voice impersonations and the alliterations and the gregariousness all fly out the window and the serious side emerges.
His detractors might paint him as aloof, but Santos – a seasoned businessman who has built a barbecue sauce and marinade empire – can just as convincing when talking about the golf stroke that sent him out of bounds as he is when talking about sewer capacity being the future for the growing community.
And he’s hoping that his record over the course of the last two years as mayor will be more than enough to secure another term and allow him to work on crafting a legacy that he can leave for his grandchildren.
“It’s all about having a ‘can do’ attitude and being willing to go out and do the work that’s needed to benefit Lathrop and its residents,” he said. “If I have to go out on my own to do things and bring them to fruition I’ll do that – I’m committed to improving this city.
“We need a combination of hope and desire to get the sorts of things done that we need to get done, and I believe I have the integrity to handle those tasks.”
But that’s not to say that the first two years were a cakewalk for the novice elected official that says he threw his hat in the ring because he didn’t like how things were being handled on the dais at the time.
Within several months of taking the gavel Santos found himself in a courtroom after a neighbor accused him of taking a neighborhood spat too far.
And earlier this year he was accused of behaving inappropriately with a female staffer at City Hall and had the case forwarded on to the San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury. Their report came out last week – they declined to get involved with the matter.
Public battles aside, Santos has maintained that his profile has made him a target and that politics being played by others on the council – tension between him and other members is often palpable – has had a lot to do with them.
“I’m an American first and foremost and I’m a Marine, and I think that’s where my thick-skinned nature comes from,” he said. “If I had my way everybody would be working together – sharing a vision – and getting things done to benefit the people of this community.
“I get the feeling however that everybody is looking for their next move – looking at it as a stepping stone of some sort. You’ve got to take care of home first before you can move forward.”
But mending fences can be done in other ways.
Santos said that he has gone out of his way to work with Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford to not only repair the once-strained relationship between the two communities – which had grown litigious over the course of the last several years – but also secure additional sewer capacity in order to meet the future need of the growing community.
He also says that he’s worked with the Lathrop Community Development Department to help make the city more business friendly, and knows that he has the background to move the community forward.
“It’s all about having the knowledge, experience and wherewithal to get things done,” Santos said. “I think that if you look around at some of the things that are going on in the community – the 200 homes that are coming on-line at River Islands – you can see the stability that this community has.
“Not even kryptonite is going to take away the resiliency of Lathrop.”
Santos lives in Lathrop with his wife Rosanne. The couple has two children – Mikel and Raynelle – and four grandchildren.