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Death threats, smears: The Manteca City Council campaign has just started
harder sign
Political vandals used spray paint on Josh Harder’s sign in South Manteca to write “baby killer”.

The filing for Manteca City Council just ended five days ago and already we have a wannabe candidate threatening to kill the present council and bottom feeders dredging up and twisting the past in a bid to smear a candidate.

Just think. There’s still 84 days until Election Day.

There are some who believe we have hit new lows in Manteca politics.

I have bad news — or good news depending upon which way you take it. Campaign 2020 doesn’t even come close to some of the past campaign shenanigans.

Topping the list is the council race a little over three decades ago.

One of the candidates for the Manteca City Council had a unique way of raising funds for his election effort. He robbed a bank in the middle of the campaign.

It was the financial institution at the time on the northwest corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.

What tripped the guy up was — believe it or not — that day’s edition of the Manteca Bulletin.

After the police were called and the bank secured, employees were ushered into the conference room to wait for questioning. It was there that one of the tellers picked up that that day’s paper from the table. As she started reading it she was a tad shocked that the robber’s photo was on the front page with a story about his running for the Manteca City Council.

Any chance it was a question of mistaken identity vanished hours later when police armed with a search warrant found in the guy’s house a wastepaper basket with crumbled up paper with typed robbery notes — apparently his first tries at getting a money demand note worded just right. They also found the ribbon on his typewriter with all of the backwards impressions of his early efforts and the final note he crafted for the money demand note he handed the teller.

To top it off his public defender argued in court that his client was the victim of political prosecution.

As an aside, that wasn’t the strangest bank robbery in Manteca history by far. That goes to a Tracy man who drove to the SaveMart on Yosemite Avenue that had a Union Bank branch inside to rob on a Friday at 10 a.m. and then returned to do the same thing on the following Friday at 10 a.m. How was he caught? Just in case he returned for the third Friday in a row to rob the bank at 10 a.m. there were Manteca Police detectives in the parking lot in an unmarked car. You’ll never guess who returned for the third Friday in a row at 10 a.m. to try and rob the bank. The bank robber’s daytime job clearly wasn’t keeping Amtrak trains on schedule.

The 1992 council election saw a smear job similar to what is underway now on social media using a story about an old arrest. In the 1992 case there was even less to it as the prosecutors declined to even pursue charges. A separate investigation by his employer — the State of California — found absolutely no support for the accusations.

This didn’t stop one of his opponents from creating a flyer with the story of his original arrest but not any follow up stories reporting the accusations were found to be baseless that was photocopied and placed in windshields of vehicles in the Walmart parking lot.

Long story short, the target of the flyers — Wayne Flores — was not only elected that year but the following year as well and went on to retire from the California Department of Corrections.

To show how vindictive his political opponents were, when Flores championed efforts for a skate park with enough community pressure to force the majority of the council to flip to vote in favor of building one, they made sure it was in the least accessible, the least desirable, and most unsafe location possible. It was tucked away from the streets behind a PG&E  substation right next to the railroad tracks that were not fenced off until 15 years later where 40 trains a day at the time passed through with no trees, no landscaping, and initially no benches or drinking fountain. The skate park saga is counter to the Family City caring about its youth.

In the heat of a campaign two years later the equivalent of today’s social media trolls pressured the District Attorney to go after then Mayor Frank Warren for allegedly assaulting a tenant. The “trolls” went as far as saying the victim was gay and had AIDS and essentially threatened to use it in the election against John Phillips, the DA at the time, to say he was not willing to prosecute crimes against gays.

The political ploy and prosecution backfired spectacularly in Tracy Municipal Court when the details of what happened that the DA’s office didn’t bother to verify by questioning Manteca Police officers that took the stand beforehand came out in open court. The incident involved water left running in a second floor apartment, Warren exercising his legal right to enter the apartment after water started leaking into the ground floor space when he got no response from the tenant. The DA assigned to the case asked for a one day continuance when the information came to light.

The next day the charge was reduced to simple assault for pulling a bed sheet back after Warren entered the apartment found the damage and tried to wake up the tenant.

Then there was the 2000 election when Dave Macedo’s opponents, unable to attack him successfully on issues to derail his campaign distributed flyers on a Sunday morning on the windshields of cars parked atvarious Manteca churches proclaiming Macedo as a Catholic supported abortion.

Macedo had little trouble fighting back that political trick. All he had to do was tell the world that he was adopted at birth from a single mom who faced the agonizing decision of either an abortion or going to term and giving her baby away.

Then four years ago there were either one or more political pyromaniacs that targeted signs of specific candidates with some accelerant fueled fires on larger signs placed in grassy areas prompting engine crews from the Manteca Fire Department to respond.

There are other gems as well as the usual kleptomaniacs whose stressor are the signs of candidates they don’t like as well as political vandals that believe campaign signs are posted as graffiti boards.

The most ironic thing about what has happened in the past in Manteca during campaigns that is done in the context of someone slithering out from under a rock is that they have consistently backfired big time with the target of their spite getting elected.

Enjoy the calm before the storm. There’s just 84 more days and then we get to the main event in Manteca politics — the mayor’s race.

It’s been tame in recent years thanks to the civility standards of the likes of Willie Weatherford, Steve DeBrum, and Ben Cantu. But as things stand now it looks like we could be in for a repeat of the 1980s and 1990s mayoral races when more cheap shots were taken than in a National Hockey League season.