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A look in Manteca’s rear view mirror: Cantu led attack on city hall placeholder mentality
cantu oath
Ben Cantu, in this 2018 photo, was shown being congratulated by Fr. Chad Wahl after the Catholic priest administered the oath of office after becoming Manteca’s ninth directly elected mayor.

If you are among those that believe the tenure of Ben Cantu as Manteca mayor was a complete waste or worst, then you need to give him his due.

Cantu was an agent of change.

It clearly didn’t happen the way he planned.

But then again, things rarely do.

So, you might ask, what did Cantu do?

If you belong to the group of people who would never join the Ben Cantu Fan Club, your perspective might be that he was an agent of chaos.

But if you look beyond the obvious, and put 2 and 2 together there is a different story that unfolded amid the upheaval and what for a while was the constant whirling sound of the proverbial revolving door.

Cantu stirred the waters.

In one form of another he inspired an exodus.

Some would say he was the key player that changed the status quo and rid 1001 West Center Street of the last thing a vibrant community that has been for years — and is destined to be for a lot longer — a city growing robustly.

What he deserves to get credit for swinging the sledgehammer the hardest was the shattering of the placeholder mentality.

Cantu was fond of saying a lot of things repeatedly.

But the words he would utter that were prophetic for his four years as mayor was that Manteca was no longer a town but was a small city.

That might seem like a “duh” statement for those who are anything but enchanted about the fact we are probably six years — if not less — from breaking the 100,000 population mark.

You could debate about whether specific takes Cantu had on things were right or wrong.

He relentlessly — yet politely and civilly — hammered away on various city policy topics.

In doing so, he did what those who served as an elected Manteca official before him with the intent to change the status quo failed to do, which was break the same-old, same-old way of how the city did business.

Perhaps they failed because they were outsiders who could be a tad self-righteous at times and embrace rules of engagement that polarized.

Cantu who dismissed the track record of those he referenced as good old boys in terms of moving the city toward, was more of an insider than outsider.

His nearly 30 years of toiling as a City of Manteca planner underscores that point.

But it was clear he marched to a different drummer.

The reason such observations need to be made is to reflect on where Manteca is today.

It is on the cusp of getting its financial house in order.

And it doing so, the city is now pushing forward with a slew of initiatives that previously stalled and those never before envisioned.

The city clearly went off the rails a few years before Cantu was elected when books were kept as if they were emulating Salvador Dali’s surrealist art rather than the rigid conformity of one that takes great pride in counting beans and doing so within the straightjacket confines of conformist accounting.

His instincts told him something was amiss.

It was Cantu who pushed the hardest by far to get an outside look at what was going on with the city’s books.

And while there was no malfeasance unearthed, there was such a disarray that the city was far from knowing where it was at or whether it was safe going forward with any long-term endeavors to build amenities much beyond the basics.

But there was more to it than that.

Before the Mad Hatter Tea Party era, the finance department was just plugging along.

Nothing wrong with that until you wed it with senior management teams whose ranks as a whole were more prone to plugging along than innovation. 

Today, Manteca’s civic leadership is forward thinking instead of channeling placeholders.

It wasn’t pretty getting to this point

And there’s still a bit of pain to come.

Water and sewer rates haven’t been raised for 14 years at the cost of not having Manteca positioned to address replacement of the natural wear and tear of infrastructure.

Do not misunderstand.

The city has, in many ways, positioned itself well over the years.

But at the end of the day Manteca has simply gotten by.

No harm in that.

But it stopped being enough somewhere between 40,773 residents in 1990 to almost 90,000 today.

Manteca needs to get to the next level.

And thanks to the 7.0 earthquake that Cantu was when it came to the city hall’s psyche, once the shaking stopped the weakest parts where in ruins.

Clearly, Cantu did not change the culture at city hall on his own. It was a team effort that required the buy-in of the council whose members have diverse opinions and styles.

Cantu, though, wasn’t afraid to be the lightning rod for change. He took the hits and flack.

His bedside manner, so to speak, wasn’t the best.

Today, those running things and serving the community — the self-proclaimed Team Manteca, if you will — are problem solvers

Manteca’s de facto motto is no longer “do not stray from convention while just getting by.”

But it is Manteca can do

And Cantu deserves credit for starting the fire of change.

Again, he didn’t do it by himself.

And he did it knowing it wouldn’t likely get him re-elected.

Not bad someone for someone who had detractors that dismissed him as Ben Can’t Do.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at