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Lathrop teen-aged candidate promises to keep campaign clean
Omar Ornelas is planning to be on the Lathrop City Council after the November 2 elections - photo by Bulletin file photo
LATHROP – Omar Ornelas has pretty lofty goals. And he has it all planned, step by grueling step way up to the top – being president of the United States.

He is already taking care of the basic requirements that he needs to get there: education and political experience.

On the academic side of his dream, the East Union High School graduate is trying to finish his general education units at San Joaquin Delta College where he is a first-year student, and then go on to the University of the Pacific for a political science degree. Law school is next after that and then practice either immigration or juvenile law and eventually become a judge and then run for president.

“It intrigues me – the whole thing – politics,” said the second oldest of eight children who, at 19 years old, is the youngest of the four candidates vying for two open seats on the Lathrop City Council in the November 2 elections.

He was a 13-year-old third grader at Lathrop Elementary School when he started getting interested in politics, he said, and never looked back. So when several people urged him to run for office, including Mayor Kristy Sayles who hired him to work at her home-based child care business for one summer, he took up the challenge.

He quit from that job, he said, “because I decided to run for council. I didn’t want any conflict of interest.” He then got a clerical job at a bail bonds office in Modesto.

He had other work experiences before that. He was a Lathrop city employee for nearly three years, working  in the Parks and Recreation Department’s Kid Club and other programs.

While still in high school, he also served as vice chairman for the city’s Parks and Recreation Youth Advisory Commission, and was Lathrop’s Youth Ambassador for 2008-09.

He admits that some people have questioned his age. “They have asked me if I’m old enough to run. I just tell them, ‘of course, I’m old enough.’ I think the bigger question is whether I’m capable of being a city council (member),” said Ornelas.

“I was born and raised in Lathrop. I haven’t left Lathrop. I have lived in Lathrop all my life,” he said, enumerating his qualifications for being a councilman.

And while he had “a lot of great (political) mentors,” the decision to run for office was “more of a personal choice. It was me that made the decision. I knew that I wanted to do it, and the time is now. The city is ready for new change and direction.”

He added, “Obviously, Kristy was an amazing mentor for me, and Frank Cavaco (of the Lathrop Rush) helped me a lot,” but Ornelas did not want to give specific names of his other mentors – “behind the scenes-type of persons.” He also acknowledged the unconditional support of his large family which includes his mother, grandparents on both sides, down to his youngest siblings, the 6-year-old twins who are attending McParland School.

“I’ve taken advantage of the big family that I have,” he said with a laugh as he talked about pounding the pavement and printing and mailing materials for his campaign. As a computer-savvy student, he has also taken his campaign to the Internet via Facebook.

If he wins,  he will work on “making sure we’re fiscally afloat,” which is what is on everyone’s mind these days, he said.

“Of course, the biggest thing is to bring business in, and to have a business-friendly mentality,” especially to the small businesses in town “who have trouble as it is trying to keep their doors open,” he said.

Asked to comment about his former employer and current political mentor, Mayor Kristy Sayles, and the problems she has been having with her husband, Tom Sayles, who is accused of physically abusing his youngest 8-year-old step-son, Ornelas  said, “Someone’s personal life – it doesn’t matter who he is, mayor or superstar, employee for a bail bonds company – your personal life is your personal life. It shouldn’t influence the way other people look at you.

“The mayor, I think has done a great job. She looks at the best interest of the citizens. I don’t think your personal life should affect the way that other people think of how you’re doing your job because, in the end, people who don’t like you are going to go their own homes and live their own personal lives.”

Ornelas said he thinks the mayor has been “professional all the way.”

He has also promised that he’ll stay clear of Lathrop politics’ “ugly game – blood, you can say,” he said.

“I’ll never talk bad about anybody. In politics, we talk about ideas. I’ll stay true to that,” the teen-aged candidate promised.