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New Cicero mayor's eye on past. Gonzalez may call on Loren-Maltese.

By Liam Ford, Chicago Tribune staff reporter

September 12, 2002

Newly installed Cicero Town President Ramiro Gonzalez said Wednesday he hopes ousted President Betty Loren-Maltese will give him advice on how to keep the 135-year-old town running.

Gonzalez, 35, was chosen Tuesday by his fellow Cicero trustees to succeed Loren-Maltese, who lost her post last month when she was convicted of federal corruption charges.

A jury found Loren-Maltese and six co-defendants guilty on charges relating to the theft of $12 million from the town through the use of a mob-related insurance firm that was given town business.

Gonzalez, the town's first Hispanic president, was appointed to the Town Board by Loren-Maltese in 2000 after he joined her Republican organization. He was elected to a four-year-term last year.

In an interview during his first full day in office, Gonzalez echoed the remarks he made after his swearing-in, saying he wants to continue what he views as the successful programs put in place under Loren-Maltese.

But he declined to discuss his predecessor's case pending her appeal. And he turned aside criticism from opponents of the town's entrenched Republican organization that his appointment simply perpetuates the status quo in a town plagued by a history of corruption and close ties to organized crime, pledging to hand over to authorities any evidence he finds of corruption or mob-influence.

Gonzalez, a naturalized citizen and native of Mexico who lived in Cicero with his family in the 1980s before moving to Chicago, moved back in the late 1990s. His background includes being an assembly-plant worker, a co-owner of a sporting goods store and a chamber of commerce official.

Citing Loren-Maltese's long experience in the town government, Gonzalez said he expects to rely on her for advice. He would not say if Loren-Maltese or her longtime adviser, former Chicago Ald. Edward Vrdolyak, backed him in his quest to replace her, but he said he has spoken with Loren-Maltese several times since her conviction.

"I hope that she's accessible--I mean, via phone--because she's an encyclopedia of how government runs here," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, who ran on the Republican ticket with Loren-Maltese last year and received $200 from one of her political action committees for election-day work in last year's town primary and election, got his start in Cicero politics as a Democrat. In 1998, he tried to run for the town's Democratic committeeman but was kept off the ballot through challenges.

Charles Hernandez, the town's Democratic committeeman and Gonzalez's opponent in the 1998 race, paints Gonzalez as a Loren-Maltese puppet who moved to Cicero to run against him.

But Gonzalez said he decided to run on his own. He said Loren-Maltese's Republican organization invited him to join and that she offered him a job when his write-in campaign against Hernandez failed, adding that the race disillusioned him with the Democrats and persuaded him to switch parties.

Gonzalez's first successful campaign was in 1999, when he ran for a school board seat. Larry Polk, president of the Cicero Elementary School District 99 board, said he has found Gonzalez deliberative and thoughtful. "He thinks through problems. He is not one to make a snap decision," Polk said.

To help him get up to speed on the town president's job, Gonzalez said he is speaking with the heads of all town departments to see what might need to be changed. But David Boyle, an attorney who ran as a Democratic candidate for Cicero town president in the 1980s after leading opposition to Cicero's all-night bars, said he's skeptical Gonzalez will make significant changes.

"It's more of the same," Boyle said. "They elected someone from Cicero with a different face but the same body of the monster."

Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, the Democrat who lost to Loren-Maltese last year, expressed concern about Gonzalez's inexperience. He said that Gonzalez being handpicked by Loren-Maltese to be a trustee is evidence that the new town president will be controlled by her and other leaders of the town's Republican Party.

Gonzalez, responding to opponents' criticism, said if voters are displeased with what he does, they can vote him out of office.

"The people elected me, via the Town Board, so I feel they actually put me there. ... So I feel that we're still here because of them, and we'll continue to be here because of them, if we continue to do the right work and the right things," Gonzalez said.

County Commissioner Allan Carr, a former Cicero town assessor who lost his bid for a County Board seat to a Loren-Maltese backed candidate in the spring Republican primary, said he believes Gonzalez is "capable," but will have to tread lightly in the job.

"I think he's got his work cut out for him," Carr said. "If he does a good job, I don't see why he couldn't be re-elected. ... [But] He's going to be under a microscope."


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