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Guests From L.A. Give Faces to Gangs, Victims : Transition: Two ex-rivals jointly run a youth services center. A third invitee stood up to a violent group.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

If proximity to the President-elect means power, the three Angelenos who were among 50 people honored at Monday’s Faces of Hope pre-inaugural luncheon were, for a day at least, some of the most potent people on Capitol Hill.

The two former rival gang members and the gutsy apartment house manager who stood up to violent gang threats against her family were seated at Bill Clinton’s table. They spent midday munching on crab cakes, white pizza and beef tenderloin and discussing the future of the country with the President-to-be.

“All this attention. I feel like a queen,” said Zoila Terrazas, the Guatamalan-born apartment manager whose family had to sleep on the floor after angry Hollywood gang members sprayed her home with gunfire. “I don’t want to wake up!” she said.

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The dream began late last month when inaugural officials notified 50 Americans across the country that they had been selected for the Faces of Hope honor and would be coming to Washington as special guests for the inauguration. All had met Clinton or Gore during campaign swings, and their stories had “touched and inspired” the candidates.

“Man, it was beautiful!” said Charles Rachal, a former Crip from South-Central Los Angeles who now tries to counsel youths away from gang life. “He talked to us individually and all together--just like it was a family thing. People were getting up, going to this table, going to that table, giving hugs and taking pictures. We were having personal talks and confessions. Man, it was heartwarming.”

Clinton and Gore--in an effort to spotlight the “ordinary” citizens they thought were left behind by 12 years of Republican administrations--pulled out all the stops to bring this new group of all-star common folk to Washington.

Airplane tickets and hotel rooms were arranged, and special buses carted the “Faces,” as they came to be known by inaugural volunteers, to many of the inaugural festivities over the weekend.

On Sunday, they had a special (albeit standing-room-only) vantage point for the star-studded Call for Reunion at the Lincoln Memorial.

“The President(-elect) was five feet away from us,” said Leon Gullett, a former Blood gang member who has teamed up with Rachal to form a youth services center in South-Central Los Angeles. “We didn’t shake hands, but he waved at us. With all those people, and Ray Charles singing ‘America, the Beautiful,’ it was really something.”

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On today’s schedule are a bus tour of Washington and seats at the Presidential Gala.

The group will witness the swearing in on Wednesday and attend one of the formal inaugural balls. They will return home Thursday.

Since their arrival, the honorees have been kept on a fast-paced schedule of dinners and receptions--with some special time put aside on Sunday to get the all-important tuxedo and gown fittings at a suburban Bloomingdale’s.

Many brought Clinton and Gore gifts from home.

Rachal, 28, and Gullett, 27, gave the President-elect a painting of an urban street scene titled “Peace Street,” and Terrazas offered a black T-shirt emblazoned with the name of a neighborhood group she works with.

Terrazas, 39, also carried several dozen letters from Latino business and community groups, many complaining to Clinton about discrimination in federal programs.

Once sworn enemies, Gullett and Rachal were led by last spring’s Los Angeles riots to a new partnership as leaders in the gang truce movement. They also continue to run a youth outreach office that once received modest government support.

“I’m delivering the message (to Clinton) that L.A. needs a better education system and some decent jobs,” Gullett said.

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Terrazas saw gang culture from the other end. A couple of years ago, she took a job as manager of a 72-unit Hollywood apartment building. She soon attracted the attention of the neighborhood gang, the TMC Rebels, who did not like Terrazas trying to take control of the building.

They threatened her and broke the windows of her truck. Then they tried to burn it. Twice they sprayed her apartment with gunfire. One bullet missed her 14-year-old daughter, Evelyn, by a foot. After that scary moment Terrazas, her four children and a nephew started sleeping on the floor. The children were not allowed to go out of the house.

Then one morning, about 4 a.m., “I talked to them,” Terrazas said. “I told them I have a job to do. I talked to them like a mother. Many (gang members) had no relatives living with them and I tried to counsel them. I told them to go to the employment center and get job training.”

The fearless, head-on approach worked. Terrazas became friendly with most of her former antagonists and she reports that some got jobs, one as a plumber, another in a library.

After her urban victory in Hollywood, the family moved to Tarzana and then South-Central Los Angles, where she managed another, smaller building. The same sorts of problems followed her--taunts, threats and worse.

One tenant “who hated me,” Terrazas said, beat her badly enough to send her to the hospital for a few days. But finally tempers cooled and Terrazas was able to maintain the peace.

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About a month ago, she and her family moved to Anaheim, where Terrazas manages another apartment building. No major problems have arisen in her new location.

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