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What's in a name?

Politician had homegrown success

Bob Martinez Sports Center: Bob Martinez served as governor and later as drug czar under President George Bush.

Published June 4, 2004

The University of Tampa has enshrined the name of one of its most famous alums twice. That's understandable, since Bobby Martinez from West Tampa made it all the way to Washington.

For his baseball talents, Martinez is featured prominently in the university's Sports Hall of Fame. Then in 1987, the university renamed its 4,200-seat Spartan Sports Center on N Boulevard after him.

Born in Tampa in 1934, Martinez grew up in West Tampa, the only child of first-generation American parents. All of his grandparents immigrated from northern Spain to work in Tampa's cigar industry.

While attending Jefferson High School, Martinez played basketball and baseball and met his future wife, Mary Jane Marino. They married in 1954 during Martinez's sophomore year at the University of Tampa. While studying for his social science degree, which he received in 1957, he also played baseball for a semipro team in Tampa.

After graduating, Martinez taught social studies in the Hillsborough County School System until 1962, when he enrolled at the University of Illinois for a master's degree in labor and industrial relations. He returned to Tampa in 1964 to teach again.

In 1966 he became executive director of the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association and got a taste for politics by frequently lobbying in Tallahassee for teachers' issues.

He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Tampa in 1974 and left the teachers union the next year to take over his uncle's West Tampa restaurant, Cafe Sevilla. Soon after, Martinez was appointed vice chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Martinez remained active on the local political scene and was elected mayor in 1978. He served two consecutive terms.

In 1983, he left the Democratic Party and became a Republican. He won the governor's seat three years later.

While he cracked down on the state's booming illegal drug trade and instituted land conservation policies, he also drew loud criticism on attempts to limit abortion rights, enact a service tax and impose obscenity laws by arresting members of the rap group 2 Live Crew.

He lost the governor's seat to Lawton Chiles in 1990. The following year former President George Bush named him the nation's drug czar. He left the position when Bush was voted out in 1993.

In May of that year he and his son Alan formed Bob Martinez and Co., a marketing and public affairs consulting agency. In recent years he has also provided political analysis for local television stations. Currently he serves as a government consultant for the Carlton Fields law firm in Tampa.

Martinez lives with his wife in South Tampa and has two children and four grandchildren. A middle school in Lutz also bears his name.

- Source: Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library, Times files, Carlton Fields law firm.

[Last modified June 3, 2004, 10:50:24]

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