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Old Feb 4th, 2003, 02:29 PM        Mayor Punches Councilman At Her Last Meeting
LOS ANGELES -- In a dramatic ending to her tenure as mayor, Xochilt Ruvalcaba tried unsuccessfully to ram through millions of dollars in city loans and punched a fellow council member before exiting what will likely be her last city council meeting.

Ruvalcaba, one of three City Council members booted from office by voters last week after being accused of depleting city coffers of nearly $8 million, had called one last meeting to vote on several costly measures.

Vice Mayor Raul Moriel, Councilwoman Maria Benavides and Treasurer Albert Robles also were recalled.

Before a packed audience Monday night, the council's three outgoing members failed in their bid to award more than $1 million in low-interest federal loans. Earlier in the day, a Superior Court judge issued an order blocking the council from awarding the money.

They did succeed in promoting at least 12 employees, including four top officials in the city's department of public works.

At the end of the meeting, an amateur video tape caught Ruvalcaba in a shoving match with Councilman Henry Gonzalez which ended when the mayor hit him across the side of his head with a black purse and then punched him in the head.

Gonzalez and Councilman Hector de la Torre, were the only two members who were not recalled.

South Gate police cited Ruvalcaba for misdemeanor battery after the meeting. She accused the 67-year-old Gonzalez of trying to grope her breast while reaching for a document.

Gonzalez called the charge ridiculous, saying he tried to stop Ruvalcaba from leaving council chambers with a card turned in by a resident wishing to speak at the meeting. Moments before, Ruvalcaba attempted to bar the resident from speaking, and then called a recess.

"I said: 'You shouldn't be walking out of here with that paper, so I grabbed it out of her hand and then she hit me,"' Gonzalez said.

After watching the altercation, audience members shouted, "Arrest the mayor! Arrest the mayor!"

Robles said the audience had tried to disrupt the meeting.

"Nothing less than a contentious, raucous exit was planned by the opposition," he said. "Instead of being magnanimous, they were rubbing people's noses in it."

De la Torre said the meeting never should have been called.

"The vote was over 80 percent to get rid of these three council members," he said. "And here they are calling a meeting two days later with 30 items, many of them to spend taxypayers' dollars."

However, the officials voted out are not going quietly. Ruvalcaba, Moriel and Robles are all on the ballot to run for City Council again in the March 4 election.

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