December 19th, 2011; Downtown Orlando – John Martinez, son of former U.S. Senator and one time Mayor of Orange County Mel Martinez was sworn in today at the Orange County Administration building. Mr. J. Martinez was appointed by Florida Governor Rick Scott last week to replace interim district 3 Commissioner Lui Damiani. Mr. Damiani was appointed by Gov. Crist following the suspension of Commissioner Mildred Fernandez after she was arrested for accepting illegal campaign contributions and bribes to expedite building projects in her district. The normally placid ceremony of swearing in a county commissioner was interrupted by residents of district 3 and a contingent of activists from Occupy Orlando.
Members of both groups spoke to the press starting at noon regarding their concerns about the appointment of the former Senator’s son. The assembled residents were upset about what they view as the appointee’s lack of connection to the district, its largely Hispanic population, and concerns of political cronyism playing a role in the nomination of Mr. J Martinez. “He doesn’t even live in the district”, said Armando Ramirez, a former candidate for Osceola County Commission District 2, “People from the community are angry because the governor directly picked him without their consent and they believe that Mel Martinez used his influence as a former senator and orange county chairman to advance his son’s political career”.
The charge of political cronyism particularly resonated to members of the local occupation movement who are currently in their 65th day of occupation, now headquartered in nearby Orlando city hall. Several activists from Occupy Orlando broke off from a nearby dirge march, mourning the death of the Bill of Rights at the hands of post-9/11 legislation (specifically focusing on recent legislation such as provisions of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act), to stand in solidarity with the community members. Former chair of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee, Doug Head spoke to some of the common concerns of both groups, “This swearing in ceremony was symbolic of the continued manipulation of the Hispanic community by the 1%. There are a lot of Cuban Americans over the years who have benefited enormously from their access to government and power in government.” Nearly 40% of District 3 self-identifies as Hispanic, and the large community of Puerto Rican immigrants feels underrepresented compared to their Cuban neighbors, sentiments which were clearly on display today.
John Martinez is a 30 year old attorney and vice-president of Gardnyr Michael Capital Inc a company that specializes in public finance. Mr. J. Martinez’s community involvement has been limited to serving on community boards, most notably the Central Florida YMCA Metropolitan Board of Directors where he has served alongside his uncle Ralph Martinez since 2007. Gov. Scott and Orange County mayor Teresa Jacobs both deny that his powerful political ties played any role in his appointment with a spokeswoman from the governor’s office stating, “John’s resume and qualifications speak for itself.” Current Orange county mayor Teresa Jacobs defended the governor’s appointment noting, “Gov. Scott’s choice of John Martinez who has agreed not to seek election during the 2012 cycle. This demonstrates the Governor’s commitment to responsible leadership while ensuring a fair and level playing field in this upcoming election.”
Mr. J. Martinez has declared that he will continue to work part time at Gardnyr Michael Capital Inc while assuming the full time position of Orange County Commissioner, a move that could potentially escalate tensions between the new Commissioner and dissatisfied residents given the firm’s focus on public finance and the residents’ view that Mr. J. Martinez benefits from inherited insider contacts. The newly appointed Commissioner is not required to fill out a financial disclosure form until July of 2012.