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How Ben Cantu went from can’t to verge of ‘can’
Dennis Wyatt

If Ben Cantu’s lead holds through the remaining provisional ballots yet to be counted and he’s elected Manteca’s mayor, credit it to a pivotal meeting between a 26-year-old student of politics still cutting his teeth and a 67-year-old seasoned campaigner who prior to running this  time was 0-6 in his efforts to get elected.

That 26-year-old was David Cushman.

Cushman was more than just Cantu’s campaign manager. He convinced Cantu to shed his somewhat lone wolf campaign style and roll out a full-fledged campaign harnessing volunteers, walking door-to-door, active social media, and traditional avenues as well.

Both Cantu and Cushman were talking “if we win” Wednesday knowing there is a chance the 126 vote lead over incumbent Steve DeBrum could evaporate as remaining ballots are counted.

But if Cantu becomes Manteca’s eighth directly elected mayor it is because of the relationship the two built and Cushman successfully doing what no one else could convince Cantu to do — run an aggressive campaign to marry with his willingness to express his viewpoints.

Cantu on election night noted the reason why he was not making his usual “I will run again in two years” statement was simple:  His platform was the same as it has been for the past 12 years but his campaign was much different.

Cushman two years ago became the youngest person ever to run for the Manteca City Council finishing fifth out of six seeking two council seats. He tallied 2,229 votes behind Cantu who was in fourth.

Cushman and Cantu in that campaign shared a lot of the same positions and perspectives. They still do. Politically both are Republicans. And whether you agree with their stands on local issues and visions for the community, their genuine desire to improve Manteca is indisputable.

When Cushman, a 2010 Manteca High graduate, opted not to run for council this year he approached Cantu with a proposal to run a much more robust campaign.

Cushman is not exactly a political neophyte. Just out of high school he helped organize and led the Manteca Tea Party. He also has worked for a Sacramento-based political consulting firm. Earlier this year, he quit the campaign consulting firm and went to work not just as Cantu’s campaign manager but also on John Cox’s campaign for governor.

Cushman isn’t drawn to politics by the lure of power, the adrenaline, or a need to feed his ego. He speaks passionately and eloquently that “Manteca is my home” and wanting to do what he can to make it a better place. That doesn’t mean he isn’t enthralled about national and state politics. It means he sees his path to making an impact working on things that he can directly affect with the hope of improving the lives of neighbors and the community.

The question had to be asked: Is Cushman running for council in two years? His answer was an honest “I don’t know” as he has a lot of decisions to make before then such as his next job as both his gigs as Cantu’s campaign manager and working on the Cox campaign have come to an end.

From Cantu’s perspective such a question is practical. To make much headway should his lead hold and he is sworn in as mayor next month, he will need others who support his positions. The mayor when you take away his duties running the meetings, making appointments with the consent of the council majority, signing official documents and being the ceremonial elected head of the City of Manteca at various functions is simply just one of five votes. As a general law city, the Manteca City Council votes as one meaning a long as a majority agree a decision can be made. It is that collective vote of one — whether it was reached via a 5-0, 4-1, 3-2 or in certain instances where it is allowed as a 2-1 — that constitutes an official legal action.

Manteca historically has never had a slate of candidates run for the council/mayor seats based on one or two burning issues. An example was last decade when slowing down growth was a hot button issue in Tracy with grassroots organizations forming that lined up candidates that shared their same position, pledged allegiance to them, and then campaigned aggressively for them in addition to the individual candidate’s campaign efforts.

The take away from this election — win or lose — are two political firsts for Manteca.

First someone who soundly lost an election didn’t decide to walk away or simply keep running until they got elected as Wayne Flores did in the 1980s-1990s, but essentially joined forces based on getting one of them elected as much as pushing an agenda.

The other is two people with an age difference that could be measured in terms of what a grandson and grandfather have — or are close to — upsetting the proverbial apple cart.

Keep in mind this is all happening without animosity despite some of the anonymous vile expressed on social media about the mayoral candidates. DeBrum and Cantu have been friends for years and are both members of Kiwanis, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, and Knights of Columbus.

Cushman has also known DeBrum for a number of years and respects him. It is why, Cushman said, running a campaign with personal attacks was never on the table.

In few days — or perhaps a week or so — we may know whether Cantu has done what most people thought would be impossible.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.