Ralston restaurateur Michael Sanchez was ready to win his Ward V City Council election the old-fashioned way, hitting the pavement, pressing the flesh, marching in parades, kissing babies.
Instead, barring a massive write-in challenge, later this year, Sanchez should take up the seat on the council dais being vacated by Rich Onken. As of Monday evening at the close of primary election filing for non-incumbent candidates, Sanchez’s was the only name on the slate.
“I was prepared to go the old-fashioned way,” he said with a laugh Tuesday morning. “I was ready for the challenge.”
Sanchez, 30, is primed to become the newest and youngest face on the council. The co-owner and manager of Maria’s Mexican Restaurant has lived in Ralston for five years with his wife and two sons and has already become a visible presence in the city, refurbishing his family’s restaurant and taking an active role in the Ralston Area Chamber of Commerce, of which he is currently the chairman.
“Obviously, I have a passion for the City of Ralston,” Sanchez said. “My family is from here, I grew up around here. I think I’ve really made an effort to get involved with the city on a number of different levels.”
A graduate of Creighton Preparatory School and California State University-San Marcos, where he majored in finance, Sanchez spent his post-collegiate years in California, working for a large bank in its financing division.
But after a few years, he said he felt an urge to come back to Nebraska, back to Ralston, and help his grandmother, Maria Sanchez, run the restaurant she started 40 years ago. He returned, started drafting plans for a new look for Maria’s and also earned a master’s degree in business administration from Creighton University.
He also started talking to Onken about ways he could get more involved with the city.
“Michael approached me awhile ago and asked what he could do,” said Onken, who will step down from the council after 12 years. “He’s been a very active person in our city and I’m glad to see him make this step to get some new blood on the council.”
Sanchez said as a member of the next generation of Ralston’s leadership, he hopes others will follow to take up positions to help move the community into its future.
“It’s become even more important now that we do have the arena and there’s so much going on,” he said. “We need that next generation to step up and get involved. I want to be part of that and I hope more people will see what they can do and join me.”
Most recently, Sanchez served on the committee overseeing the creation of Ralston’s 20-year strategic plan. He said in those meetings, it became very clear to him what the city needs to accomplish some of its more ambitious goals, including a major redesign of the city’s entrance at 72nd and Main streets.
“When you start planning these big, audacious goals for the city, you see what it’s going to take from councilmen and planners and the public,” Sanchez said. “It’s especially important for Ralston to talk about how it’s going to grow economically because, as everyone knows, we’re landlocked. When we sit down and talk about these audacious goals, we have to think about who is going to be around in 15 or 20 years to see these ideas implemented.”
Onken said his decision to step down came when Sanchez said he was interested in running for the Ward V seat.
“I asked him if he was interested in running and he said, ‘Well, yeah, but not against you,’” Onken said. “And I realized when I got into this, I thought it would be two terms and I’d move on. But it became three terms and I’m ready. It’s good to get some new faces on there and I’m glad Michael will be one of the new leaders.”