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2022 Manteca mayoral race: Cantu vs. Singh vs. Halford?
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On the surface the 2022 Manteca mayoral race could be epic.

There are three possible high profile candidates. They include incumbent Mayor Ben Cantu, Councilman Gary Singh and Councilman-elect Charlie Halford.

All three have high name recognition. All three can raise a small volunteer army key to running a non-pandemic campaign. All three will be serving together on the City Council in the two years leading up to the 2022 election.

You might ask yourself why any sane person would be thinking about the 2022 mayoral election when there are still ballots to count from the election 10 days ago.

The reason is simple. Singh’s huge fundraising this election cycle is likely to leave him with a head start of $40,000 for a run at the mayor’s seat. Assuming his current donors repeat their giving for a potential Singh run for mayor and the pandemic wanes to allow large social gatherings that double as campaign fundraisers and meet the candidate affairs where tickets go for $25 to $50 a pop, it is conceivable Singh could have $120,000 at his disposal to run in 2022.

Not that a candidate would need to match Singh dollar for dollar, but they would need to build a fairly sizable campaign war chest — likely at least $40,000 — to run a campaign that will make sure they are heard.

That said there is a misnomer that those candidates that spend the most are the ones that will get elected. That is especially true in situations where there is a clear cut burning issue that creates two distinct camps.

Such a pivotal issue is not the homeless, the manner in which Police Chief Jodie Estarziau departed ways with the city, or even the financial clouds that encompass accounting and fallout from COVID-19 shutdowns that are torpedoing city revenues.

The homeless and the city’s financial situation are big issues but unless something catastrophic happens, they are not barn burners. As for Estarziau, it’s pretty clear that it is not a make or break issue with voters given how Singh came out on top and fellow incumbent Debby Moorhead ran a fairly strong third. That’s not to say voters were necessarily happy with the process that put Estarziau on ice before she and the city parted ways. But it did not rise to the level of throwing the bums out.

A lightning rod issue that would serve a low-funded but well-organized mayoral challenger is a candidate that takes a stance to slow down growth. It is what fueled a “revolution” of sorts a decade or so ago in Tracy.

But aside from pot shots on social media about growth being the root of all evil, there is no organized movement to try and slow down the pace by monkeying with the 3.9 percent growth rate tied to dwelling units and sewer allocations or replacing Ordinance 800 with a different approach.

So unless someone starts today to build name recognition and push a campaign platform that is not essentially a different shade of gray, there are only three viable candidates as things stand now.

None of the three are anti-growth. Nor are they growth at all costs. But they differ in how they want to see the city grow.

None have the mantel of an outsider, especially Halford and Cantu given the have a combined 50 plus years working for the city.

There is an assumption with some that Cantu’s mayoral style and his constant reminding people that if they want upgraded services and amenities they will have to tax themselves to get them has made him political roadkill.

The fact the one-cent tax increase on the Nov. 3 ballot that is likely to go down in defeat by less than 1,000 votes in a challenging economy with only a half-hearted effort to push for its passage did so well is a sign that people aren’t rejecting Cantu’s message.

And no matter what you might think of Cantu’s style, he is not trying to hammer opponents into submission. Cantu might be guilty at times of seemingly droning on and repeating his history lessons of what he sees as 40 years of city hall missteps that he believes is responsible for Manteca not living up to its potential, but he has done so in a civil manner.

Singh, Halford, and Cantu all bring different positives to the table. It is why they are in the same ballpark on the issues although in some cases Cantu might appear to be out in left field.

But there is one thing about the baseball analogy that people seem to gloss over. The guy in left field is on the same team but just sees his role in playing the game differently given he clearly has a different perspective on the field.

All three basically grew up in Manteca and have made — or are making — their living here.

In that aspect you’d have to go back to the 1996 race between the two Perrys — Bill and Carlon — when all the candidates for mayor had roots approaching the depth Halford, Cantu, and Singh have in Manteca.

It’s fitting that all three are local high school graduates. Cantu is a Manteca High product, Halford an East Union High graduate, and Singh a Sierra High alumnus. They all see Manteca through the same glasses but with slightly different visions.

Why any of this should be grabbing your attention when the 2020 election results are far from being finalized and certified boils down to the unique situation it creates having at least two council members — Singh and Cantu — jockeying to get elected mayor in 2022 with a third In Halford who might just join the fray.

What will separate the three from each other is how well they can get a council majority to move the city forward. There is no political percentage on the local level in mayhem, ugly dissension, or having Manteca listless for the next two years.

And while there is no reason to suspect any of the three not to give their all serving as elected leaders even if they have no intentions of being on the 2022 mayoral ballot, the added impetus the 2022 election could be a referendum on how effective they are in leading the city over the new two years.

If that happens everyone benefits.

Both Singh and Halford, if they run, would be doing so from safe seats given they will be midway through a four-year council term at the time of the next mayor’s race. If Cantu runs and loses, he’s done unless he makes a comeback as a councilman in 2024.

Some believe Halford would not fare well if he opted to run for mayor after two years in office as a council member. Moorhead tried the same thing 10 years ago in a three-way race for mayor with Steve DeBrum as well as Cantu and finished last.

The advantage that Halford has is that he’s retired and could devote the time and effort needed to not only show he is effective as a city leader but also to work on building up his support.

Singh runs in some of the same circles as Halford plus has a fairly strong base with small businesses owners. It would be erroneous to assume his base is simply the Sikh community. Singh crosses age spectrums, political party preferences, and the “old” and “new” Manteca.

Cantu has not, as some assume, cooked his own proverbial goose by speaking his mind and daring to state the obvious that no one likes to hear such as if you want amenities and upgraded services you have to be willing to pay for them.

It’s tough to bet on the outcome of a potential Cantu-Singh-Halford race as a lot of things can happen in the next two years.

The only thing you can say with any degree of certainty is the prospect of the mayor’s race being a record shattering $100,000 plus campaign is almost a given.