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Governor’s Top Latino Aide, Harmed by Scandals, to Quit

Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian’s top-ranking Latino adviser, whose political stock fell when two of those he recommended for jobs were caught up in scandals last year, will resign July 31, the governor’s office said Tuesday.

Gilbert A. Avila said he will move to Los Angeles to reopen a public relations business and explore the possibility of running for the City Council seat held by Art Snyder, who has said he will step down in September.

For six years, Avila served as a special assistant to Deukmejian, chiefly as his liaison to the Latino community. In 1982, he headed “Viva Duke,” Deukmejian’s Latino gubernatorial campaign arm. Since then, he has advised the governor on Latino affairs and recruited Latinos for Administration posts.

‘Held a Special Position’

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“Gil has held a special position in this Administration where his energy, experience and sensitivity have resulted in significant contributions to our progress and success,” Deukmejian said in a statement announcing the resignation.

However, one Deukmejian official said privately that Avila’s position within the Administration was hurt by last year’s scandals involving two men he helped bring into the Administration: Gilbert Montano, former director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, and Andres Mendez, former director of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“He had a very influential role in appointing Hispanics,” said the Deukmejian aide, who requested anonymity. “The recommendations he made on Montano and Mendez really blew up in the governor’s face.”

Montano resigned in March, 1984, amid allegations that the Office of Economic Opportunity awarded state grants to “political favorites.” A subsequent investigation by the Legislature’s auditor general found widespread misuse of public funds in the agency’s awarding of grants to local agencies. Later, two of Montano’s subordinates pleaded no contest to charges of stealing $67,500 in anti-poverty funds. Montano was never charged with any crime.

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Fined $10,000

Last December, Mendez was fired by Deukmejian after he was fined $10,000 by the Fair Political Practices Commission for violations that included pocketing campaign contributions Mendez raised for Deukmejian. Mendez had been Sacramento chairman of the “Viva Duke” campaign.

Avila said Tuesday that the two episodes had not damaged his political standing and did not play any part in his decision to resign.

“They had nothing to do with me,” he said. “If there had been any problem, I would have left at the time Montano had a problem.

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“I have been helpful in recruiting more than 100 Hispanic appointees. Certainly I don’t think I’m going to be judged by the ones that went sour.”

Avila’s departure left Deukmejian with no Latino representation in his inner circle of advisers, just as he and other Republican leaders are about to launch a campaign to register minority voters--especially Latinos--for the 1986 elections.

No Decision on Vacancy

Deukmejian has not decided whether to fill the vacancy, said spokesman Kevin Brett.

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Avila, a native of Los Angeles, said he is considering making a bid for Snyder’s council seat against Assemblyman Richard Alatorre (D-Los Angeles), who has already announced his intention to run for the opening.

“I’m going to be analyzing the situation as to whether or not I will be a candidate in the City Council race,” Avila said. “Mr. Alatorre is not invincible.”


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