Cause Celeb

After years of wildly blasting the Chandler power structure, self-proclaimed civil rights advocate Ramon Gomez now finds himself under attack

Gomez told officers that the woman was continually calling and hanging up on him. He relentlessly chastised officers for not acting forcefully enough, engaging them in debates about the law, and threatening to sue them. In September 1993, after the woman filed a restraining order against Gomez, he accused her of violating an order of protection by entering the Gomez family home. It was an early hint of the legal tactics Gomez would employ against those, like Magidson, who crossed him.

In December 1993, he even called police to say that he believed he was being stalked by a representative of the Catholic church because of his lawsuit against the diocese. Police dismissed the accusation.

Gomez's most intense battle, however, was with a former business partner. In the mid-'90s, Gomez was part-owner of a Chandler hair salon called Salon de Peña. When the business collapsed in 1995, war broke out between the two parties. At one point, Gomez accused his ex-partner of kidnapping him, on the grounds that the man's truck was parked in such a way as to restrict Gomez's movement out of the salon. Chandler police suspended the case, but Gomez went on to file petitions for injunction against harassment against both his ex-partner and the man's ex-wife.

M.R. Diaz is a Chandler artist and activist who has 
observed Ramon Gomez's public tirades at close 
range.
Paolo Vescia
M.R. Diaz is a Chandler artist and activist who has observed Ramon Gomez's public tirades at close range.

In the midst of such melodrama, Gomez didn't have much time to establish a positive direction for himself. When the Chandler police roundup of 432 Hispanics occurred in 1997, Gomez -- who was then approaching his 32nd birthday -- had little to show for his résumé but a failed hair salon and some experience helping out at his family's tire company.

But when a group of prominent Chandler Hispanics gathered at the Church of the Nazarene two days after the roundup to discuss a protest strategy, a confident Gomez attacked the city with a ferocity that jolted everyone in attendance. Calling for a housecleaning of the Chandler City Council and police department, he shouted, "If they want a sweep, let's give them a sweep."

"He just went completely bonkers," Diaz recalls. "He was saying, 'How dare you do this to the community,' and everything. That's where you could kind of tell who the media hounds were. After that, it sort of became another protest every other week."

Gomez insists he was drawn to the cause for the noblest possible reasons. "It [the roundup] was not a Hispanic issue, it was a civil rights issue," he says. "Some people didn't see that. Some people wanted the media attention. I wasn't interested in that."

Gomez attributes his concerns for the disenfranchised not only to his painful experiences with Catholic priests, but to an early childhood spent picking fruit in the hot sun.

The sixth of nine children born to longtime Mesa residents Steve and Catalina Gomez, he recalls that money was tight for many years, with both of his parents working two jobs to keep the kids fed.

"I remember getting up at 3 in the morning to get to the fields by 4," he says. "It was hard work. I'll never pick another watermelon again. I hated it."

For all of Gomez's vaunted empathy, he quickly demonstrated some unnerving tyrannical impulses to the other members of the Chandler Coalition. His high-strung, table-banging histrionics quickly grew tiresome to the more moderate members.

"He gets really worked up and very loud," Garcia says. "And it's almost the more he speaks, the louder he gets. That's really not our style, and we were just not fast enough for him, not aggressive enough.

"He was interested in recalling council members, and that was something he would always bring up -- to get rid of everybody, and start all over."

By the time Phoenix attorney Steve Montoya took over the coalition's lawsuit against the City of Chandler, coalition members were openly complaining that they couldn't work with Gomez.

But Gomez's split with the coalition wasn't assured until August 29, 1997, when he made the rash move of filing recall applications against six council members, including Tibshraeny and Vice Mayor Judy Harris. Inexplicably, one of his targets was councilman Martin Sepulveda, a strong critic of the roundup and a subsequent recipient of an award from Gomez's National Civil Rights Movement.

"I can't explain my anger at the time, knowing that my people were in jeopardy," Gomez says. "I was wrong about Martin, but I've apologized. I didn't believe him at the time."

Coalition members wouldn't have minded if Gomez had launched the recall effort on his own, but they were incensed that he attached the coalition's name to the applications without consulting any other members. In response, they kicked him out of the group.

But adversity has a way of making Gomez more combative, and he responded to this rejection by creating an organization of his own. He called it the National Civil Rights Movement and declared himself president. He also filed his own lawsuit against Chandler, seeking $8.9 million in damages.

During negotiations, Gomez's inability to muzzle himself once again bit him in the backside. In September 1999, he announced to the Arizona Republicthat the suit was on the verge of being settled, and attorneys for the city responded by abruptly calling off all settlement talks. Five months later, Gomez dropped the suit.

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