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Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, right, tours the Child Advocacy Center with Executive Director Patrick Guyton on Monday in Mobile, before a meeting with members of the Mobile Project Safe Childhood Task Force at the Child Advocacy Center, a counseling center for sexually abused children.
AP Photo by John David Mercer
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, right, tours the Child Advocacy Center with Executive Director Patrick Guyton on Monday in Mobile, before a meeting with members of the Mobile Project Safe Childhood Task Force at the Child Advocacy Center, a counseling center for sexually abused children.

Embattled AG tours Mobile child center

By Melissa Nelson
Associated Press Writer

MOBILE — While politicians skewered him on the U.S. Senate floor Monday afternoon, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was far away meeting with child advocates in an impoverished Mobile neighborhood.

The embattled attorney general told a handful of reporters gathered outside the Child Advocacy Center of Mobile — a converted home that houses social workers and others who help abused children — that he wasn't following the Senate debate.

"I am focused on protecting our kids," he said.

Even criticism in the Senate from fellow Republicans like Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania won't stop him from finishing out his next 18 months with the Bush administration, he said.

Gonzales is under fire for a series of controversies from the firings of eight federal prosecutors to the handling of wiretapping authority under the USA Patriot Act. But Republicans were able to block the Senate's no-confidence vote Monday afternoon, which Democrats sought to use to force him from office.

At the news conference in Mobile, he said he wouldn't be leaving any time soon.

"I am focused on the next 18 months and sprinting to the finish line," he said.

A model for other states

After attending a terrorism conference in Miami earlier Monday, Gonzales visited the center in Mobile to highlight it as a model for other states.

Sheriff's deputies, social workers, a doctor, police, prosecutors and others have worked together at the center since 1985 to combat child abuse in the Mobile area.

The small group of social workers, prosecutors and law enforcement officers who met with Gonzales behind closed doors for about an hour delighted in the attention his visit brought to their work.

"It was exciting. Despite his problems, he just talked with us about what we are doing. It didn't say anything about what was going in Washington until he got outside (at the news conference)," said Karen Terrell, the Alabama Department of Human Resources supervisor for Mobile County.

Terrell, who works at the Mobile center, said it routinely handles everything from children removed from filthy homes to children who have beaten or sexually abused.

Across the street from the center, Title Cash employee Darnell Jones said he didn't know police had closed off the streets. Jones and Jamika Lewis, another employee of the payday loan business, said they would have liked for Gonzales to tour the community and talk to the public.

"It was just a political stunt. He is one of the top people in the U.S. government and he came here and they didn't let anybody know about it," Jones said, pointing out his window to where Gonzales addressed reporters.

"I would have loved the opportunity to ask him some questions about the wire tapping and the war and all that," he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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