This is not your typical Manteca mayoral race.
That is saying a lot given the checkered past of Manteca politics.
In 74 days at 8 p.m. when the last ballot is dropped in the box the curtain will come down on the latest act of a morality play.
This is not a touch and feely campaign.
This is not about grand ideas.
It is about the nitty gritty.
If the past eight years has taught us anything the Rubik’s cube that is homelessness is anything it is driven by nitty gritty facts.
Some are annoying. Some are ludicrous. Some test our very outlook on the word.
The homeless are as varied as the sheltered.
There are those who go about their business the best they can avoiding calling attention to themselves.
There are kind souls.
There are people who act in such a manner donkeys would be embarrassed to share the same nickname.
There are addicts.
And then there are those who are crazy in the traditional meaning and those that have mental health problems brought about from addiction and/or living on the street.
They represent movements of the Rubik’s cube sideways.
Then there are the horizontal issues that move the cube up and down.
A consequential document called the Constitution was set up by a preceding document proclaiming with words such as “all men are created equal.”
People have rights.
But their rights aren’t absolute, sheltered or unsheltered.
They can’t be in order to have a society of 329.5 million people remain as civilized as possible.
It is why we have a court system designed in a manner to try and prevent the majority from tipping the scales against the minority and vice versa as much as it is to strike a balance between criminals and victims.
Yes, the homeless have rights even if they are homeless. They don’t cease being humans — or American citizens — just because they are homeless.
And contrary to the popular beliefs of Manteca’s homeless philosopher in residence, the rights of the homeless do not trump all other rights either.
People on their own have no right to decide who is allowed to walk down — on even sleep on — a public sidewalk.
People have the right, though, to a safe community where property is respected and heath and safety standards maintained.
One little caveat before we examine the three main characters in the morality play the mayor’s race is fast becoming as it is viewed through different prisms of biases.
The middle ground that arguably most people want to obtain to gain some sense of control over the situation is a moving target when it comes to the homeless.
So, who are our three main characters and what background with the homeless has brought them to where they are today?
First there is the incumbent who knows firsthand about the homeless and how families are often powerless to do anything.
Ben Cantu has never hidden the fact his adult daughter has been homeless and has issues.
He also knows that families — and even government agencies can’t simply impose their will on those that can’t be persuaded for whatever reason to get help.
His daughter is now getting help.
So, let’s all show a little class and drop the whispering campaign.
Cantu is no different than other parents who have adult children who are struggling.
And let’s be clear on another point. He is an American through and through, the proud son of immigrant parents that worked their behinds off to make a better life for their family.
Cantu has never played the race card.
It is why it is rich to see it played against him on his vote for where to locate the proposed homeless navigation center.
A day doesn’t go by that Gary Singh isn’t up close and personal with the homeless. And that has nothing to do with his duties as a City Council member.
Singh gets to deal with issues they create for his business and properties that he manages.
He knows they defecate and urinate around buildings. He knows they can be belligerent. He knows they can trash up places. And he knows some are capable of assault given he was attacked by one of them outside his store.
Singh isn’t bitter. That’s because he is tempered by his faith and his belief in America. It is why he is looking for a solution to what is an impossible situation.
Lei Ann Larson is impacted by the homeless as well.
She lives on South Main Street which these days is a de facto homeless promenade.
Larson also lives directly across the street from the property the city has chosen for the navigation center.
Rest assured there are many people in Manteca in the same boat as Larson with the caveat they are not as close to the proposed navigation center.
But if the navigation center is managed right, it will be much nicer living near that than by encampments that keep popping up such as near Kaiser Hospital, Powers Tract/Spreckels Park, and elsewhere.
Mock Larson if you will but her fears are legitimate given the city’s historic lack of follow through on issues. Ask Cantu for a word or two about how bad that is.
Whether Cantu or Singh will admit to it, Larson is shaping this race.
That’s because she has been allowed to set the narrative.
And despite any recent efforts to broaden her concerns, she has made the homeless issue No. 1. Or, more precisely, the entire idea of a navigation center.
Cantu has passed on opportunity to share the truths he knows in a manner that will hit home.
Why not show taxpayers what their money is doing and invite a different former homeless person who has gotten off the streets thanks to the city’s help in the last four years to share their story for two minutes at every council meeting. That could be followed up with a status report on the city’s efforts.
This is not manipulation. Cantu of all people knows how the homeless problems impact people personally.
As for Singh its either modesty or fear of heightened political attacks that has kept him from not playing up the pivotal role he played in securing a $16 million state grant to assure local taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill to build a homeless navigation center.
Keep in mind this California and such navigation centers may likely become mandatory under the heavy hand of Sacramento.
There is no other city as small as Manteca to secure $16 million in a direct state grant. That is due to behind-the-scenes efforts by Singh that is addition to pass thru money to the tune of $2 million the county awarded Manteca.
Because of Singh, the cost of establishing a homeless navigation center won’t cost Manteca’s a cent as the $18 million will certainly cover it.
Lodi and Tracy, on the other hand, have received pass through grants of $2.8 million and $3.6 million respectively.
What Singh did is certainly out-of-the-box by the definition being batted around lately. It was a long-shot that paid off.
The question now is Manteca going to throw $18 million away and not make any forward progress by going back to square one while at the same time putting local taxpayers on the hook for addressing the facilities requirement of a homeless program?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org