National Hispanic Heritage Month


Melquiades R. (Mel) Martinez was born October 23, 1946, in Sagua la Grande, Cuba, to Melquiades and Gladys Ruiz Martinez. After fleeing Cuba in 1962 to escape an outbreak of violence in his hometown, Mel Martinez settled in Florida. He served in local government and in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet before being elected the first Cuban American to serve in the U.S. Senate. He was a moderate voice in support of comprehensive immigration reform. “Bringing people together is my nature,” noted Martinez, the only immigrant among his Senate colleagues. “There is nothing I’d rather do in the United States Senate than work to reach a consensus, build a bridge, seek and maintain common ground.”

Martinez earned a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from Florida State University in 1969 and a law degree from that institution in 1973. He worked in private practice for nearly two decades and was president of the Florida Academy of Trial Lawyers from 1988 to 1989. He also chaired the Orlando Housing Authority and served on the board of directors of the Orlando Utilities Commission. Martinez met his future wife, Kitty, while they were students at Florida State. The couple raised three children: Lauren, John, and Andrew.

In 1998 Martinez won election as Orange County chairman. Martinez also took an active role in the 2000 presidential campaign as co-chairman of the Florida operation of Republican nominee George W. Bush. After the election, President Bush nominated Martinez as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and he was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 23, 2001. As Secretary, Martinez was a forceful advocate for homeownership and for the advancement of public-private initiatives with faith-based and community services. At HUD he established a $1.7 billion tax credit program for investors building affordable housing and a $1 billion program to help 650,000 low-income families make down payments.

Mel Martinez was sworn in as a Member of the 109th Congress (2005–2007) on January 4, 2005, and acquired seats on the committees on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; and Foreign Relations. He also served on the Select Committee on Aging, and later secured seats on the Armed Services Committee and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

In December 2008, Martinez announced his intention to not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2010. Delivering his farewell address, Martinez stated, “Having lived through the onset of tyranny in one country and played a part in the proud democratic traditions of another, I leave here today with a tremendous sense of gratitude for the opportunity to give back to the Nation that I love—the Nation not of my birth, but the Nation of my choice.”

Reference Material.

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