By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
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"I remember once when Ramon requested all these city documents about the roundup, and it was maybe about $1,000 worth of paperwork. And then he never even went to pick it up."
Less than two months ago, Gomez promised that his organization would help sponsor Diaz's Cinco de Mayo celebration in Chandler, guaranteeing to provide $3,500 for the event. To no one's surprise, the money never arrived. Gomez explains this no-show by saying he didn't want to taint the event by attaching himself to it, at a time when he's facing damaging allegations.
"We didn't want to give them a black eye," Gomez says. "They deserve better."
Longtime Gomez observers, however, suggest a deeper reason for such unfulfilled promises: His ego tends to write checks that his wallet can't cash.
"He likes to say that money is no object, but we just never saw it," says Rosalia Garcia, a coalition member and co-owner of South Chandler Video. "He is a forceful speaker, and when you first meet him, that kind of grabs your attention. He seems to be trying to make himself much more important than he is. I think he does that because he wants to make an impression.
"He would say he was going to speak to President Clinton, or say that he was going to get in touch with these important people that he knew personally. And I would think, 'You don't need to say that to us, because it doesn't make any difference.'"
Despite the criticisms from both liberal and conservative insiders, Gomez does wield a strange influence, simply because he's so confrontational, and so adept at sounding authoritative.
Tibshraeny's city council members have worked to mold Chandler into a kind of New Scottsdale, a slick, upscale tourist magnet. Along the way, they've alienated Hispanics with plans to turn downtown Chandler into a Frank Lloyd Wright-themed entertainment district, complete with a statue of Wright in A.J. Chandler Park.
This plan depends on creating the appearance of ethnic harmony in a city with a history of discord between Anglos and Hispanics. But Gomez, with his shotgun blasts at every perceived inequity in the city, makes council members nervous, because they never know when he might hit a nerve.
When Tibshraeny hoped to quiet local complaints about the police roundup by creating a Human Relations Commission, Gomez was at the first meeting, voicing the feeling of many Hispanics, that the commission was nothing but a public relations Band-Aid.
"I was there, but I was too nervous to speak," Diaz recalls. "But Ramon got up, and he started wailing on them like you wouldn't believe. And those people looked like they were ready to be hit by a semi. Their eyes were huge, and they didn't know what to do."
When the Wright statue was proposed, Gomez cornered art-commission members and told them it was absurd to have a statue of Wright -- a man never associated with Chandler -- instead of a minority with real roots in the city.
Ultimately, feelings about Gomez in Chandler are as complex as Gomez's own bewildering shifts from race-baiting demagoguery (as when he publicly supported convicted child molester Ronald Ruelas on the grounds that Ruelas was a victim of discrimination) to why-can't-we-all-get-along idealism (as when he lauds the "good heart" and civil rights sensitivity of Sheriff Joe Arpaio).
As off-putting as Gomez's loose-cannon theatrics can be, some Hispanics get a cathartic rush from seeing Chandler council members wince and squirm in their seats whenever Gomez begins one of his barrages.
"He seems to turn up whenever the city's karma gets bad," Diaz says with a laugh. "He has a fear factor, which I think is good. If you're that paranoid about Ramon, you must be doing something wrong."
Ask any of the key players in Chandler politics when they first became aware of Gomez, and they'll all say July 1997, immediately after the police roundup.
Up until that point, his calendar was dominated more by personal traumas than by political conscience. In 1993, he filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, arguing that he had been sexually abused as an adolescent by three priests in East Valley churches. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount.
Gomez doesn't hesitate to go into graphic detail about his experiences with the priests, which he blames for what he calls his period of "sexual confusion" as a young adult.
During this period, Gomez became a familiar -- if not tiresome -- figure to Chandler police officers. Chandler police files contain dozens of offense reports prompted by calls from Gomez between 1992 and 1996. They include repeated accusations by Gomez that a man he described as an ex-lover was threatening to kill him. The case was closed when Gomez decided not to press charges.
According to Chandler police reports, his parade of complaints eventually came to include his brother, Steven -- who has since passed away -- whom he accused of stealing his federal disability checks from the mail (police found the accusation unfounded), and a Mesa woman who was a friend of his brother Jesus.