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Gunman Wounds South Gate’s Mayor in Attack Outside His Home

TIMES STAFF WRITER

South Gate’s 64-year-old mayor was recovering at a local hospital Wednesday after being shot in the head by an assailant as he returned home from a council meeting, police said.

The assailant’s bullet grazed the back of Henry Gonzalez’s head, inflicting a superficial wound that did not require surgery, according to doctors at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, where the mayor was listed in stable condition.

Police refused to release a description of the assailant or to discuss a possible motive, such as robbery. But several of Gonzalez’s colleagues feared the shooting might be linked to last month’s vicious campaign, in which Gonzalez won a narrow reelection victory. Several rival candidates complained of smear tactics. One flier accused Gonzalez of becoming a millionaire through kickbacks and back-room deals with city businesses.

“My gut feeling is that politics were involved,” said Joe Ruiz, a South Gate businessman and Gonzalez ally who ran unsuccessfully for council.

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Kaye Torres, who managed Gonzalez’s campaign, agreed.

“I can’t imagine any other reason why anyone would shoot Henry,” she said.

Friends and family members said the assailant was waiting for the mayor, who walks with the aid of a cane, as he stepped out of his car at his home on Alexander Avenue at 10:52 p.m. Tuesday night. Gonzalez’s wife, Theresa, was at his side at the time of the shooting but was not injured, they said.

In 1982, Gonzalez, an organizer with the United Auto Workers, became the first Latino elected to the South Gate City Council. He has been on the council for 13 years and has been chosen by his colleagues to hold the largely ceremonial post of mayor for three years.

He had returned from a council meeting that city officials described as “relatively calm” and routine.

Police sources said investigators are optimistic about solving the crime soon. “They have two witnesses who saw the shooter,” one said.

At the request of police, the Prospectors Club of Southern California scoured Mayor Gonzalez’s front lawn with metal detectors in search of clues.

Gonzalez never lost consciousness and remained alert and talkative while he was treated at the hospital, said Dr. Clarence Hyshaw, who treated the mayor.

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“Fortunately, he was hit in a very durable portion of the head,” he said.

In an interview last month, Gonzalez said the recent council campaign left a bitter taste in his mouth after he and Ruiz were hit with a series of nasty anonymous campaign mailers.

Gonzalez called the campaign “the dirtiest in South Gate history” and vowed to retire after completing his four-year term.

The dirtiest anonymous mailer accused Ruiz of being arrested for molesting four boys even though police say that Ruiz does not have a criminal record and is not under investigation for any crime.

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Mayor Gonzalez was most upset about the mailer that accused him of enriching himself. It included a photo of Gonzalez that was digitally altered to make it look as if he was behind the bars of a jail cell. “What Henry Gonzalez has done to us is a crime,” the mailer said.

The mailer was sent by a group called Citizens for Honest Government. But the address given for the organization does not exist and the group is not registered with the California secretary of state, as required for political committees.

Gonzalez had accused city Treasurer Albert Robles of orchestrating the anonymous attacks, a charge Robles has vehemently denied. Robles, in turn, accused Ruiz and Gonzalez of launching anonymous hit pieces.

“It was one big dirty campaign,” Robles said. “Everybody is blaming everybody.”

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