SOUTH GATE — It took Dorothea Lombardo 10 years to win a seat on the South Gate City Council.
But even though the veteran gadfly won her first council race last month--and was declared the winner again after a recount--her victory is still being challenged.
Former Councilman Henry C. Gonzalez continues to protest, claiming that the city clerk failed to count all of the eligible absentee votes.
Gonzalez has filed a complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that City Clerk Janet Stubbs failed to have absentee ballots picked up from the post office after the election, even though the ballots were dated before the polls closed.
Stubbs has declined to comment. A hearing date is pending.
Meanwhile, Lombardo finds herself in the unfamiliar role of occupying a council seat and listening to speakers at the podium.
Adjusting to that role, she has been quiet and attentive.
"I didn't know what to expect," Lombardo, 65, said in a recent interview.
A South Gate resident for more than 35 years, Lombardo first ran for the council in 1978. She made four unsuccessful attempts before her win in April.
During the last 12 years, Lombardo said she rarely missed a council meeting.
She seldom made a fuss or shouted but quietly got her point across, she said.
She could always be counted on to approach the podium and challenge the council on some issue, said Willene Cooper, a friend who campaigned for Lombardo.
"I never felt welcome," Lombardo said.
A housewife whose husband died in 1981, Lombardo has three grown children. She said she first started writing letters to the local newspaper when her children were in junior and senior high school.
"I was angry over something. I think we needed more security (for students) on the campuses. And I started going to City Hall to voice my opinion," said Lombardo.
"I always did my homework. I was always brief. I never got thrown out. I always behaved like a lady," she said.
Since her election, Lombardo said, she is continuing to do her homework.
"There is so much paper work. So much to understand (about) how the city works."
She quickly added: "I'll never stop anyone from speaking before the City Council. It is their constitutional right."
Now Gonzalez is the outsider approaching the podium. The 52-year-old former councilman has not missed any of the six council meetings since Lombardo took her seat in April.
Gonzalez and incumbent Councilman John Sheehy were defeated by Lombardo and Robert A. Phillip.
Gonzalez asked for a recount, which confirmed the election results. He finished third behind Phillip and Lombardo, trailing Lombardo by only seven votes. Sheehy finished last in the contest for the two seats.
(South Gate does not have council districts, and in the at-large election, the seats went to the two top vote-getters.)
Then Gonzalez filed the Superior Court complaint May 11, naming Lombardo, Stubbs and the city of South Gate as defendants.
Gonzalez's attorney, Frank P. Barbaro, said in earlier interviews that perhaps 30 ballots are "questionable" or were not counted for various reasons.
On Monday, Gonzalez appeared before the council to challenge its decision to pay Lombardo's legal fees in the court case.
"It is a bad expenditure," Gonzalez said.
"If Mr. Gonzalez was up here, he would be screaming that the city pay his legal fees," Lombardo said.
The council voted unanimously to pay Stubbs' legal fees. It voted 2-1 to pay up to $10,000 of Lombardo's fees, with Councilman Bill DeWitt opposed.
Lombardo and Councilman Herb Cranton abstained. Cranton said he did not vote because he had supported Sheehy and Gonzalez in the election.
City Atty. Bruce (Boogaard had declared that, to avoid a possible conflict of interest, he would not represent anyone in the case.