Eduardo Martinez sits at the front desk of the Richmond Progressive Alliance hunched over a pile of donor thank-you letters. It’s midday and the quiet of the office is punctuated by the hum of vehicles that pass by on Macdonald Avenue and the occasional police siren in the distance. As Martinez picks up the letters and shuffles them a bit, several stray postcards—decorated with antique cars and a family of raccoons and littered throughout the pile—pop out.
The postcards are not thank you notes, Martinez says, but correspondence that he shares with friends around the globe—today’s letters will be sent to Bulgaria, Romania, and Finland—as part of his involvement with Post Crossing, a postcard exchange group Martinez joined in 1994. They are reminders of his global interest, even in the midst of an intense local council campaign.
His interest in postcards began when he was traveling through Europe as a young man. “I found it difficult to keep a journal,” Martinez said, “so I started sending postcards to myself.” Mailing short scenes of his travels helped him to physically preserve the memories for when he went back home, he said.
As in his days traveling in Europe, Martinez has plenty of material to fill his postcards these days, especially after receiving his share of the spotlight in what has become a big-money election.
Martinez likes to discuss the absence of corporate money in his campaign and, like other RPA members, emphasizes an anti-corporation city policy. The corporate money has come in heavily against him and RPA member Marilyn Langlois in response. The Chevron-funded campaign committee Moving Forward spent more than $37,000 through Oct. 5 criticizing Martinez’s attendance record as a member of West Contra Costa Unified School District’s Community Budget Advisory Committee.
“It’s devious,” Martinez said of Moving Forward’s “Eduardo Martinez Truths” website.
“They’re not truths,” he said. “They’re half lies.”
Martinez says the group took only a portion of his record to draw the conclusion that he was an absentee member of the committee.
Still, he said, he’s focused on keeping a positive attitude. “I like their cleverness,” he told a friend, Ray Dryer, who had stopped by the RPA office one afternoon. “It made me and my wife laugh.”
He paused a moment. “I guess it does make you feel important when someone is spending so much money against you,” he said.
Martinez keeps a toolbox on the passenger-side floor of his red Mitsubishi pick-up truck, for days like a recent afternoon when he stood on the corner of Colusa and San Mateo Street in the Richmond Annex stapling campaign posters to the mint-green fence of a corner house. It’s the eighth time he’s gone through the process of hanging these signs, he said, because someone keeps ripping them off the fence. “This is my neighborhood, though,” Martinez said as he used a Swiss Army knife to slowly pull the old staples out from the fence, making sure to keep it intact as a thank you to the home’s owners for letting him put the posters there in the first place. Next, he painstakingly removed the small fragments of blue paper left over from signs round one through seven.
The lawn across the street is lined with “No on N” signs, a reference to Measure N, commonly called the “soda tax.” Martinez supports the measure, citing the rise in the city’s rates of obesity and diabetes. Opponents of the measure see it as a tax on the lower classes of Richmond, families that often live paycheck to paycheck and for whom the extra tax would be a tough financial blow.
“That’s ludicrous,” Martinez said. “It’s a ridiculous argument. We’re saving poor people money in the long run by preventing health issues from excess sugar.”
But Martinez also sees the measure as a way for the city to cure its current financial distress.
“Richmond needs money,” he said. “And it’s not going to get it from the state or the federal government.”
He staples another sign to the mint-green fence. The only other way to get the money is from the people of Richmond, he said. “The soda tax, to me, seems like a good way to get it,” he said.
During his campaign, a staple gun and Swiss Army knife help Martinez hang posters to gather votes, but his toolbox used to help him bring in the money needed to support his young family. “I was doing a handyman kind of existence,” he said of his life before he became a teacher. “It wasn’t bringing in a steady paycheck.”
Discussions with his wife Liz, a librarian, helped him decide to head back to school and complete his degree. Liz thought he would make an excellent teacher because of how easily he interacted with his nephews at family gatherings, he said. Perhaps, they thought, this meant he could have a bright future working with young people?
A teaching degree from San Francisco State University led to teaching jobs in the WCCUSD, including a role as the fourth, fifth and sixth grade teacher at Downer Elementary School, though he was later transferred—against his wishes—from the school with several other teachers for what he called “undermining the authority of the principal.” The teachers objected to the ways in which new methods for teaching the curriculum were being implemented in the school. For their efforts, “The Downer 5” as the teachers were called, were given the 2006 Kenneth S. Goodman “In Defense of Good Teaching” Award by the University of Arizona College of Education.
Martinez remembers sitting in the teacher’s lounge at Downer Elementary when he noticed the last line in a newspaper article, which mentioned a decision by the WCCUSD School Board to take money from the school where Martinez was working and give it to El Cerrito High School. Downer Elementary needed the money, he said, and “by lunchtime, people were wondering, ‘How can they do that without the consent of the parents and teachers?’”
Just a few days later, under the leadership of Martinez and several other teachers, parents and school employees joined together and marched up 23rd Street to protest at the next school board meeting. “We were such a force that they transferred the money back immediately,” Martinez said.
Martinez, who retired from teaching in 2010, credits his profession as great preparation for the work he might face on the City Council. He said he hopes to continue to fight injustices in the city and invest in young people as a councilmember.
Martinez would also hold the progressive majority on the council, which currently hangs in limbo thanks to the retirement of council and RPA member Jeff Ritterman.
Like his fellow RPA councilmembers, Martinez holds strong opinions about the role of large, multinational corporations in Richmond, particularly Chevron, which Martinez says should be required to give back to the city through involvement with Richmond’s programs. “A real neighbor is not just someone who lives next door, but who cares about the welfare of people around them,” he said. “That’s what neighbors are supposed to be.”
With his pile of letters and postcards in hand, Martinez leaves the RPA office and walks around the corner to the Richmond Post Office. He quickly drops the letters in the drop-off box and begins to walk back out to the street when he notices a familiar face on a piece of paper on the ground. It’s his own, looking out on one of the Moving Forward campaign mailers; this one attacks Martinez for being a radical political activist. The mailer has been ripped in half. He laughs, picks up the paper and looks around the Post Office. Then he starts methodically tearing it to pieces, drops the pieces in the trashcan and walks outside.