Former Deputy Police Chief and its current Town Administrator, Contente's selection is the result of a lifelong dedication to family, and the Town of Bristol.
While “Mayor” is a not-uncommon nickname for the most popular guy in the room, in the case of Steven Contente and the Town of Bristol it’s his actual job (even while we continue to prefer the everyman title “Town Administrator”). As of Thursday, March 30, Contente has a new title: your 2023 Bristol 4th of July Chief Marshal.
While it’s never an easy job to choose an honoree, for General Chairman Chuck MacDonough, Contente was the strongest contender.
“The selection is a lonely sport, it’s all on me,” said MacDonough. “There are so many people who give life and soul to the success of this town, but Steve has given so much. He’s thoughtful, he’s fair, he looks at all sides of every issue. And he’s really just passionate about Bristol.”
Contente’s record as a leader was also a big part of MacDonough’s decision. “The people who report to him respect him and share his vision. It’s great to have a leader that people are happy to follow.”
The youngest of four sons of Ilidio (Leo) and Barbara Contente, Steve recalls a happy childhood where he was well-looked after by his three older brothers — Leo, Paul, and Alfred.
“They were all very good to me,” he said.
According to Steve, his parents led by example, through hard work and commitment to family. Leo Sr. came to Bristol as a young child from Faial, where his grandmother was raised after being herself born in Bristol. When he began in Bristol schools, he knew no English — years later, he would serve as the first Superintendent of the Bristol Warren regional School District.
Steve’s mother Barbara (Barboza) was also raised in Bristol, meeting her husband at Colt Memorial High School. In addition to raising four boys and supporting her husband, Steve recalls his mother working hard at a number of different jobs, from hospitality to teaching preschool.
According to Steve, his parents never pushed the boys in a particular direction, but his father did tell them “whatever you do, be the best.” It worked: all four live in Bristol, and all have found professional success: Alfred and Paul as engineers, and Leo as the proprietor of a busy automotive repair business. The senior Contentes recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.
Steve’s own professional path began after high school with stints as a carpenter, quahogger, fireman, and seasonal DEM employee. It was there that he was convinced by conservation officers to look into policing. He was hired by the Bristol Police Department and while working earned both a Bachelors and then a Masters degree in justice studies.
“I spent 20 years with Bristol Police Department, and I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “Looking back at the interactions I had with people in the community, I think I was good at my job. I smile when I see adults who used to be kids on my beat and remember me as 'Officer C'. I hope I had a positive impact.”
After retiring from the BPD as Deputy Chief in 2015, Steve returned to construction. He enjoyed it, but over the next few months several people suggested he run for Town Administrator in 2016. He made a final decision at the last minute.
“I was working in Portsmouth at declaration time and I put my tools in my pickup and drove to Town Hall. (Retired Town Clerk) Lou Cirillo asked me if I was a Republican or a Democrat. I didn’t know, so I checked off Independent.”
It was a very close race, and Steve beat incumbent Tony Teixeira by the slimmest of margins. These days, he enjoys working with his former political rival, now a member of the Town Council. “I work very well with Tony, and I’ve learned a lot from him,” Steve said. “Tony always puts Bristol first.”
His relationship with Teixeira is representative of how Steve has always worked with others, which is a key component to his style of leadership — he’s open and willing to learn from those around him. “Everyone has their strengths,” he said. “You pull out people’s talents and you can make a heck of a good team.”
He remembers one particular lesson picked up from Nick Guercia when Guercia (who would also retire from the BPD as a Deputy Chief) was Steve’s Sergeant. “Nick taught me that the best way to diffuse a domestic disturbance between a teen and their family was to remind the teen that their parents love them. That would always take the fight out of the room.”
Even with all his success, the role in which Steve Contente probably shines brightest is also his most important one: as husband to Kristen (Marabello) and father to Alaina, 12, a 7th grader at KMS; Levi, 10, a 4th grader at Rockwell; and Matthew, 7, a 1st grader at Rockwell. “Steve’s a really great family man, we come first all the time,” said Kristen. “The kids are his everything. He likes to come home and play catch with Levi, and hear about Alaina’s day.”
“As a family we are very proud of him; he has good intentions, and I think he’s really deserving. We’re really excited to share this with him.”
“I’ve been privileged to commit my work to this town as a Lieutenant in the Fire Department, as a police officer, and now as Town Administrator, I’m giving it my all,” Steve said. “Everything I do is about the next generation — our investments are long term, we are working to protect the environment, our infrastructure improvements and land preservation, it’s all looking toward the next generation. You can’t just be reactive.”
He’s looking forward to fulfilling the role of Chief Marshal with honor and dignity, noting that even though the role is largely ceremonial now, historically it was in fact the Chief Marshal’s job to ensure the safe execution of the event — so if that were required, he can do that too.
“I’m very honored and grateful,” said Steve. “But I owe it all to my family. It’s thanks to my grandmother’s commitment to coming back home to Bristol and my parents’ commitment to their 60-year marriage and their 4 boys.”
“I’m accepting this honor on behalf of my family; I’m only successful because of them.”