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Anaheim Next on His Resume

Times Staff Writer

It’s appropriate that Anaheim’s newest city councilman, Harry Sidhu, lives in a sprawling house that once belonged to the Yorba family.

The trailblazing Yorbas were Orange County’s first ranchero family, settling here after receiving a 62,000-acre grant from the king of Spain in 1809.

No one gave Sidhu his home or his business fortune -- he earned it himself; his is a classic immigrant saga. Sidhu, who was elected Tuesday to his first public office with more votes than the dozen other Anaheim council candidates, got his start at the most American of institutions: McDonald’s.

It was in Philadelphia 30 years ago that Sidhu, as a college student and recent immigrant from India, learned about the U.S. economy.

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“This is what converted me to politics,” said Sidhu, 49. “As soon as I saw my first paycheck and the amount of money that was gone [in taxes], I became Republican from then on.... I want more money in people’s hands, less in the government’s hands.”

His family also taught him that with education as a base, “the sky’s the limit,” he said.

And with that philosophy, the mechanical engineer quickly branched out into general contracting and real estate. He moved to California and bought his first Burger King in 1988. At one point he owned 28 fast-food restaurants -- all that he built from the ground up.

The experience he gained working with cities and counties, planning departments and chambers of commerce gave him insight into how things work -- and a desire to play a part in leading a community.

“It was difficult to break the barrier of getting into public service [in Anaheim],” he said. He tried unsuccessfully to get appointed to the Planning Commission. He ran for City Council in 2002, placing fourth in a field of 11 candidates.

Mayor Curt Pringle appointed him to the budget commission in 2003. Sidhu launched his bid for City Council the next year, spending nearly $250,000, most of it his own money. He attended neighborhood council meetings and sought support from longtime Anaheim residents. In the weeks leading up to the election, Sidhu sent about a dozen mailers.

“The opposition was very strong,” Sidhu said, noting that two other candidates were endorsed by Pringle.

“To overcome that, I had to spend.... I made the money here in this country. This country has given me everything. To give it back to my city and my country, money was secondary to me.”

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It paid off. Sidhu was the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s council election.

“I think he’s his own man, and that’s the key to me,” said supporter Irv Pickler, a former city councilman. “He told me he wouldn’t be beholden to anybody. We won’t know that until December, but I’m hoping that he is going to be an independent thinker.”

The mayor said he was looking forward to working with Sidhu, adding that the city had moved forward by being ethnically inclusive.

“Harry’s input will be very valuable to the future of the city,” Pringle said.

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Sidhu said he agrees with the direction the city is heading and conducted polls that revealed that residents are generally satisfied.

But he said he was aware that some groups were unhappy with the perception that Pringle controlled the council and had handpicked newly elected council member Lorri Galloway, and that issues were not fully discussed because residents were leery about attending meetings.

“My sign said, ‘Bringing Anaheim Together,’ ” Sidhu said. “My whole goal is to work together to bring peace and happiness.”


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