By Nicole Shine/Garden Grove Journal
After a little over a month on the job, Sergio Contreras Jr., Westminster’s new city councilman, is still settling in.
He hasn’t yet added his office key to his keychain. And his desk is bare, save for photos of long-time city official Margie Rice, his wife and daughter, and his dad standing in uniform in front of the Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle.
The photo says a lot about Contreras, 39, the son of Mexican-American immigrants. His father, a janitor, kept the Magic Kingdom clean for 35 years.
“My dad told me you don’t want to do what I do, you’ve got to go to school,” Contreras recalls.
Money was tight in his childhood home. His parents weighed whether they could afford rent, food, or school supplies for him and his five younger siblings.
All were raised in a one-bedroom apartment on 11th Street in Westminster, until his parents bought a home one street over on 10th,where they still live.
Contreras took his dad’s admonition to heart. A product of Westminster schools, he went on to earn undergraduate and master’s degrees at Cal State Long Beach. But like his dad, he worked at Disneyland, cooking at the Hungry Bear Restaurant, the French Market, and others.
While in school, he volunteered in Orange County Juvenile Hall, where he tutored kids who “looked just like me.”
He thought the best way to reach these kids–before they got into trouble–was on the Westminster School District Board of Trustees, After two unsuccessful runs, he was elected in 2004.
Over the next eight years, he ushered in programs to teach English to pre-kindergarten children, supply after-school tutoring and put smart-board technology in every classroom.
“He was one of those individuals who reached out to the entire community,” recalls former Superintendent Sharon Nordheim, who worked with him for six years.
He also started the Mindready Foundation, which gives backpacks full of school supplies to low-income students. They’ve handed out some 2,000 backpacks in the last five years.
Then a new challenge came his way. Rice and the late Councilmember Frank Fry told him of Fry’s plans to retire. Would he want to run?
“He and Margie were the first ones out of the gate saying you gotta do this and supported me,” Contreras explains. “It’s my hometown, I felt like it was my duty.”
Contreras won the most votes in the council election–11,715—a feat he attributes to his hometown ties and knocking on countless doors. He dropped 12 pounds during the campaign, a big loss on his rail-thin frame.
“I looked like Gandhi,” he quips.
Now that he’s in office, what does the future hold?
Twins, for starters. His wife, Adriana, is due June 17. They find out whether they’re having boys, girls, or one of each this week. They already have a two-year-old daughter, Chloe.
And service. He plans to bring “new energy” to public safety and business development.
“Westminster Mall was a beacon, now it’s competing with Bella Terra,” he explains.
He’s grateful for the chance to bring his perspective as a former student, a parent, a homeowner, and a lifelong resident.
“I’m living the American dream.”
Contact the writer on Twitter at @nicolekshine.