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Bravado Hid Martinez's Insecurities, Friends Say

March 13, 1986|RALPH FRAMMOLINO | Times Staff Writer

In high school, he was the cocky football star who helped make sure the other students didn't step on the grass around campus. And years later, as a San Diego City Councilman, Uvaldo Anthony Martinez Jr. would portray the same air of self-confidence.

A large and imposing figure, he swaggered down the halls at City Hall and sat at his desk with a cigar wedged between his fingers.

But friends have said that the councilman's bravado also masks some large insecurities--insecurities that may have led Martinez to prove himself by using his city-issued credit card last year in a way that a San Diego County grand jury said is questionable, if not criminal. The grand jury indicted Martinez Wednesday on 28 felony counts of mishandling public funds.

"He's worried about being perceived as the token Hispanic," said Mike Madigan, senior vice president of Pardee Construction Co. and one of Martinez's closest friends for 15 years. "Then there's the idea, 'Gee, am I really good enough?' "

Madigan suggested that those insecurities are an outgrowth of Martinez's background as the oldest of seven children from a relatively poor family in National City. The future councilman would blossom early--at 14 years old, he was already 6 feet, 2 inches tall and 175 pounds.

The size translated into physical prowess, and he earned honors in baseball, basketball and football at St. Augustine High School, where his former coach remembered him as "cocky." His athletic accomplishments also inspired other desires to lead, and he became involved in politics at the urging of his mother.

At first, Martinez was a Democrat, working in the 1968 presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy. But he said he was "turned off" by an unfulfilled promise by the Democrats to supply money to a local Mexican organization, and he registered as a Republican in 1971--in time to work on the campaign of a mayoral hopeful named Pete Wilson.

Wilson was to become Martinez's political mentor. Martinez was hired by the city Planning Department, where he was assigned to work on Wilson's pet project, the city's Growth Management Plan.

While working as a planner, Martinez tried unsuccessfully for appointment to the council's 8th District in 1976 and 1978. His patience paid off in December. 1982. Shortly before Wilson was to leave City Hall, Martinez was selected to oversee a diverse district that includes trendy stretches of Hillcrest and high-profile downtown, as well as economically depressed, minority areas such as San Ysidro and Barrio Logan.

During his tenure at City Hall, his unabashed leanings toward the Republican Establishment inspired some criticism. Dan L. Munoz, publisher of La Prensa San Diego, and other Latino activists labeled Martinez a "coconut"--brown on the outside but having the values of a white person inside.

But others, such as Rachael Ortiz, executive director of the Barrio Station neighborhood organization, said Martinez has come through for the minority community. She cited Martinez's efforts to upgrade or put in sidewalks as an effort that will "benefit thousands of people for decades to come."

Martinez inveighed against the transients downtown, referring to them as "bums and petty hooligans." During the time he was paying for expensive lunches and drinks on the city credit card, Martinez also pledged to "do whatever it takes to get the rotgut booze off the streets of downtown."

Eventually, Martinez was forced to go on the defensive. Newspaper articles late last year revealed that he and his former aide, Rudy P. Murillo, had spent $9,502 in taxpayer money between July 1, 1984, and June 30, 1985, for travel and meals. Some of the meals cost $200 to $300 at some of the city's exclusive restaurants.

Newspapers reported that as many as two dozen people Martinez claimed on city records were with him during the meals said they were elsewhere, or said they didn't discuss city business at the time. Those revelations led to a 3 1/2-month district attorney's investigation and to the 12-day grand jury investigation that culminated in Wednesday's indictment.

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