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Martinez strikes populist tone at kick-off party for re-election campaign

Thursday, January 26, 2012 by Josh Rosenblatt

Bolstered by a strong populist message and a song in his heart, two-term incumbent Council Member Mike Martinez kicked off his re-election campaign last night before a large crowd at Nuevo Leon on the city’s East Side. Martinez can now turn his attention to his one challenger in the race for Place 2, businesswoman and anti-fluoridation activist Laura Pressley, who kicked off her own campaign last Friday. 

The differences in the two campaigns are stark. Pressley is running as an insurgent, a reality borne out by the small group of community activists, East Side advocates, and government watchdog group members who came to her campaign kick-off at the YMCA Learning Center on East Sixth Street.

Martinez, meanwhile, is a longtime Austin politico – in addition to being a Council member, he is also chair of Capital Metro and a former president of the Austin Firefighters Association – and his party was attended by a who’s who of the city’s political establishment. They included State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, former State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, State Rep. Eliot Naishtat, Austin Police Monitor Margo Fraser, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, former Travis County Commissioner Richard Moya, Peck Young from the Center for Public Policy and Political Studies at Austin Community College, and Council colleagues Laura Morrison, Bill Spelman, Chris Riley, and Kathie Tovo.  

The differences don’t end there. Last week, both candidates filed their first campaign reports of the election season. As of Dec. 31, the Martinez campaign had nearly $65,000 on hand. The Pressley campaign, by comparison, had just over $2,000.

Despite the disparities in money and influence, Martinez spoke about his hopes for his campaign, and a prospective third term, with populist zeal. During his speech, Martinez referenced President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address from the night before, and he touched on similar themes, from shared sacrifice to the positive role government can play.

“If we lose focus on the least of us, every single one of us will lose in this city, every single one of us will be affected,” said Martinez. “It is representing the voiceless. It is representing the ex-offender, the person trying to make a go at it, the person trying to find a minimum-wage job. It is government’s job to do for them what they can’t do for themselves. … That means to me we work for the least of us.”

Martinez then pointed to several of the legislative efforts he has been a part of during the last six years to improve conditions for workers and the working poor in Austin, including pushing through an ordinance mandating rest breaks for construction workers and championing the reform of the city’s social service funding. He promised to continue working on issues related to workers’ rights and the economy. Because, he said, as the city continues to grow and become more of a destination for travelers around the world, the people of Austin need to make sure no one in Austin is left behind.

“There’s the Austin we show people, the ones that people from New York and Chicago and San Francisco hear about and want to come check and come be a part of,” said Martinez. “But there’s also an Austin that I know about and you know about as well. The Austin I know, living and working on the East Side for 20 years, is much different. … The Austin I know is a place where children are still going to bed hungry, where teenagers are still dropping out of school in the ninth grade, and where parents are still working two full-time jobs minimum wage and seniors work well past retirement age just to try and make a living and pay their bills.

“Unless we begin to focus much more of our time and energy on lifting up the people who live their lives in the Austin that I know, we will eventually lose the Austin that we are quick to show.”

And with that, Martinez took another page out of the Obama playbook, the one that says politicians shouldn’t be afraid to sing. For Obama, the audience was the Rev. Al Green and a packed house at the Apollo Theater last week. Martinez, meanwhile, grabbed the microphone, and in a replay of his wedding, serenaded his wife, Lara Wendler, before a roomful of cheering supporters.

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