Now that Steve DeBrum has announced he’s seeking a second term as Manteca’s mayor in the November 2018 election, the big question needs to be asked: Who is running against him, if anyone?
Ben Cantu may have the answer.
Cantu — who has ran for election five times since 2008, thrice in council races and twice in mayoral races — says he’ll decide in the next few months whether he’s running for council or for mayor.
There are two other seats up for election in less than 13 months that are currently held by council members Richard Silverman and Mike Morowit. Neither has made an official announcement. Morowit has indicated he’ll likely run while Silverman isn’t ready to say. That said, there are four to five names that keep popping up as possible challengers.
It’s typically tough to take an incumbent out in a crowded field. That said, what would a DeBrum-Cantu race look like?
Before looking at the dynamics, Cantu offers a few thoughts on what’s wrong with the process. Cantu — a retired City of Manteca senior planner — believes a thorough discussion of the issues gets buried beneath an avalanche of campaign spending.
He points to the 2014 mayoral race that he felt he was in a position to win. A month out, when he said he had spent $13,000 and DeBrum $20,000, Cantu said an infusion of close to $20,000 allowed DeBrum to be everywhere from cable TV commercials, to more lawn signs, to more direct mailers. DeBrum ended the 2014 race with 5,494 votes compared to 3,310 for Cantu.
Cantu believes the tidal wave of campaign material focused on giving DeBrum widespread exposure did him in. He added a lot of that money wasn’t “local” in that it came from people not living or doing business in Manteca.
Cantu thinks it is “unfair” that you have to spend $42,000 to run for mayor in a community of 77,000. He’d like to see campaign spending capped at $20,000 per candidate per race. It should be noted the last Lathrop mayor’s race in 2016 saw more than $60,000 spent running for a two-year seat and not a four-year term in a city with a third of Manteca’s population.
Cantu also favors term limits — two four-year terms — just like the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors. And he also wants to see the four council members elected by district and not citywide as the mayor would still be elected.
Not only would it make it more affordable and practical for someone to run for a council seat given they’d be campaigning within a sub-community of 19,000 residents, but it would avoid having council members concentrated in one area of Manteca. Currently, Cantu notes, three council members reside in the Woodward Park area — Silverman, Gary Singh, and Debby Moorhead.
Such a concentration, he says, creates a situation where one section of Manteca may inadvertently get more attention at the expense of other areas. He believes people run for council to do what they believe is best for the whole city but at the same time it’s only natural to be influenced by what you see or hear from neighbors day in and day out.
He pointed to some of Moorhead’s recent observations made after she signed a contract to buy a house near Woodward Park and her employment has seen her spend more time in north Manteca. Moorhead at one meeting said she was aghast at the traffic on Woodward Avenue in the afternoons. She acknowledged it had been brought up to the council before but until she started driving in the area on a regular basis she didn’t really understand how bad it was.
A change in her employment patterns helped her focus on a traffic signal issues at Lathrop Road and Crestwood Avenue that city staff fixed in short order. Cantu said having council members that need to worry about the city as a whole plus keep an eye on a smaller part of it for smaller issues that often matter the most to people is a big plus. He said even without district elections he doesn’t believe he’d fall into the trap of glossing over sections of Manteca since he says he is constantly driving around looking for things to make the city better.
Rest assured the five seating council members (that includes the mayor) take the same approach.
Obviously Cantu wants to get elected. That said, there is little doubt he believes in what he says. Cantu hears a different drummer.
This time around he plans to run a bit differently whether it’s for council or mayor. In the past he said he’s concentrated on educating voters about issues and giving them history lessons on how the city has operated over the years on the premise if you don’t understand the past you’re doomed to repeat it. That, he concedes, is a time consuming process.
In the 2018 election his focus will be on getting his name and face out there. That doesn’t mean he’s backing off being a policy wonk of sorts in Manteca politics. It’s just that he says it makes more sense to do that after he’s elected. That means a campaign with more face-to-face time with voters.
As to the reason he keeps running, Cantu said it is “the same as it was in 2008. I want better services for the community.”
Which brings up the question — is Cantu running for mayor or council in 2018?
We’ll know in a few months.