Al Martinez, Chevron’s lesser known candidate for Richmond City Council
on October 22, 2014
Nearly 40 percent of Richmond’s population is Latino, but only two of the 15 candidates running in this year’s municipal election are Latino. The two candidates are men with the same last name, but otherwise they couldn’t be more different.
Eduardo Martinez, who narrowly lost a 2012 City Council race, is a well-known Richmond Progressive Alliance member and regular speaker at public events.
Al Martinez is a recently retired postmaster and former Richmond police officer – having left the department after being charged and acquitted for several alleged crimes – who is backed by the city’s biggest corporation.
Al is more of a mystery.
You won’t spot him at the City Council meetings. At candidate debate forums, Al often shows up late, and generally speaks the least. The sales tax measure coming before the city’s voters this November? He doesn’t know much about it.
But thanks in part to about $324,000 of Chevron spending supporting his campaign and attacking his chief opponent, Al could soon have a spot on the City Council.
“I think they looked out and they saw some proved leaders, and that’s whom they would want to assist,” Al said about Chevron’s support through its campaign committee, Moving Forward. “They recognized the leadership. I don’t dictate what Chevron Richmond does, I’m not part of whom they represent. I don’t get money.”
Before the election season, Al Martinez was not known for political engagement. He served as Richmond postmaster from 2002 to 2014. He’s also an elder at the Bethel Temple Pentecostal Church in Richmond and leads the Richmond Police Department’s Chaplaincy Program, providing support and spiritual guidance to both victims’ families and police officers.
Born in Oakland, Al moved to Richmond in 1977. He lives in the Carriage Hills neighborhood.
Al’s parents are first generation Mexican immigrants, and he speaks Spanish fluently because his parents were proud of their culture and didn’t allow English at home. Al remembered that his sister spoke English with him on the way home but they would switch to Spanish just at the doorway.
He attended Fremont High School in Oakland and became the school football team’s quarterback in his senior year, leading the team to an undefeated season.
Al then went to Humboldt State University on a football scholarship. He majored in wildlife management and aspired to become a fish and game biologist. Had everything gone as planned, he might have retired as a fish and game warden.
But a turning point came one day in Al’s junior year. He happened to visit the unemployment office in Eureka, a city near Humboldt State University. He saw a flyer in the office for fish and game biologist. The job’s monthly salary was $800. And then he saw another flyer for Richmond Police Officer — $2,500 a month.
It was an easy decision to make. Al applied to the police officer job and got an interview. Then he dropped out of college to attend police academy. In 1977, Al joined the Richmond police force as a patrol officer.
Al had never been to Richmond prior to being hired. As a police officer, he moved to Richmond and lived on Ohio Avenue and Marina Way.
Al’s area of responsibility was North Richmond and the area known as the Iron Triangle. He said that as a cop he often would get out of his car, sit down and talk to different people to establish rapport with the community.
Al recalled one time confronting a young man in North Richmond who was on a no bail warrant and wasn’t cooperative. Al didn’t rush to use force. Instead, he let one of the community leaders to help him.
“The elderly man came from behind that young man and slapped him on the back of his head, he said ‘don’t you hear what that officer was telling you, go with Mr. Martinez right now, don’t act like a fool,’” Al said. “The guy relaxed and got on my car.”
Retired Richmond police Lt. Rahn Carmichael has known Al for years. When Carmichael transferred to Richmond in 1981, Al trained him and familiarized him to the Richmond community.
“He was very in touch with the Richmond community, highly respected in the community,” Carmichael said. “His interaction with the community, I saw as a new officer with some experience, was commendable. And I tried to simulate his lead, in that he’s a respected officer.”
But after serving for seven years, Al left the force in 1984. There’s speculation in the community about why.
California Superior Court documents show that the District Attorney of the County of Contra Costa filed nine charges against Al in April 1984, including “take, steal, and carry away a firearm, the personal property of the Special Services Section of the Richmond Police Department” and possession of cocaine. According to court documents, a jury acquitted Al of all charges on Oct. 30, 1984.
In an interview after a recent candidate forum, Martinez said he was innocent and one jury even member came after the trial to shake hands with him.
“I was investigated for something that apparently was some charges that went to court, they were acquitted, all charges,” Martinez said during an interview at a local restaurant. “I was never fired. I kept my job and then I decided to leave the police office, go on to post service.”
In another interview after a candidate forum, Al said that people who knew about the charges would say “they (the police department) tried to fire him (Al), they tried to mess over him.”
Al doesn’t often share the episode with the public, saying he doesn’t want to talk about the charges because “when the public sees it, they don’t know enough about it, I don’t want them to feel sorry for me.”
Richmond City Councilman and mayoral candidate Nat Bates, who is also supported by Chevron, said he doesn’t think Al has to talk to the voters about the episode.
“In this case, he’s exonerated, and the case is closed,” Bates said. “If you didn’t do something, why would you even talk about it?”
The year after his acquittal, in 1985, Al started his new career as a letter carrier at United States Postal Service (USPS) office in Berkeley. He was promoted to acting supervisor the same year and later to a variety of management positions. In 1992, Al served as a station manager in Fremont, overseeing 100 employees.
Al earned his first postmaster position in 1994 at the Pinole office. Three years later, he went back to Fremont and served as Fremont postmaster, managing 500 employees. In 2002, Al came back home to Richmond and served as Richmond postmaster until 2014. He retired earlier this year.
On Aug. 7, Al filed nomination documents as a candidate for the 2014 municipal election. Al said people asked him to run about six months ago but he only made up his mind right after he retired in July.
It’s unclear who’s supporting Al besides Chevron.
When asked who supported him to run, Al said “different community leaders” and “different spiritual leaders.” When asked what community supported him, Al said, “The Richmond community.”
On Al’s campaign website, the endorsement page is blank. According to his campaign statement from July 1 through Sept. 30, the only one he filed, his campaign committee received $6,700 contributions in total: $2,500 from Richmond Police Officers Association, $200 from Richmond Sanitary Service, $1,000 from Black Men & Women, $1,000 from DP Security and $2,000 from Operating Engineers Local #3. Al had no contributions from individuals.
Chevron Richmond supports Al. According to expenditure reports, Chevron’s independent campaign committee Moving Forward has spent around $62,000 supporting Al’s campaign. The latest Moving Forward expenditure for Al was made on Sept. 12.
Al’s political opponents are skeptical.
“I don’t think Chevron spends money on people because of their leadership,” Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt said.
Al’s competitor, Eduardo Martinez, wonders why Al is running. He and his supporters believe Chevron backs the campaign because they want to siphon votes from Eduardo by supporting a candidate with the same last name.
“The only motivation I can see is that Chevron asked him to run,” Eduardo said. “And they said okay we support you. I know Chevron has asked other people to run, and other people have refused.”
While spending around $62,000 supporting Al, Chevron’s campaign committee spent around $262,000 opposing Eduardo, depicting Eduardo as a dangerous, lazy anarchist. The latest Moving Forward expenditure against Eduardo was made on Oct. 9. A few days before, on Oct. 6, Moving Forward spent around $76,000 on media against Eduardo, who is now the target of a flurry of negative television commercials.
Al denied that his campaign is a ruse to topple Eduardo’s.
“I respect Eduardo,” Al said, adding that any insinuation that he is a decoy to split the city’s Latino vote is “unheard of.”
Others disagree. At an Atchison Village candidate forum, the moderator introduced Al Martinez as Eduardo Martinez. When Eduardo got his turn to talk, he immediately told the crowd that “this confusion we just had I think is manufactured, we have a Chevron candidate, Chevron has been promoting, and his last name was Martinez.”
Eduardo said at the forum that he got a phone call from someone who thought they were talking to Al. He also got an email from a woman who was angry about all the hit pieces against Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, and she said to Eduardo in the email that she would never vote for him or any of his friends. It turned out she confused Al with Eduardo.
Al’s command of local political issues has also been questioned.
At different candidate forums, while other candidates tended to finish their last sentences a few seconds after the time was up, Al rarely used all his time. Al often stresses the importance of leadership in his public remarks, mostly steering clear of specific political issues.
Al rarely attends City Council meetings. “I probably have not talked to him a dozen times in my 41 years living in Richmond,” Butt said. “He has never come down here and made a look at us like a lot of people.”
Al noted that council meetings are on television, and that he doesn’t like the way in which they’re were conducted.
“There are supposed to be rules and regulations,” Al said. “When you don’t have that, there’s a lack of leadership. When you don’t have that, it’s out of control. I don’t want to be part of that.”
At the Hilltop District candidate forum last month, when asked about the Hilltop mall signage, Al said, “we have to take advantage of every opportunity to bring business to Richmond, whether that’s through exposure with signs, it has to be done,” and he continued, “signs are good, but unless you change the infrastructure, unless you change the player, unless you change the leadership, they won’t be buying into these signs.”
Al concluded by talking more about leadership.
For the same question, candidate Henry Washington said the sign could pay for itself. Candidate Jovanka Beckles said the sign on Pinole’s side was much nicer than the Hilltop one.
During the interview at the restaurant, Fatapple’s in El Cerrito, where he has been a customer for more than 20 years, Al seemed unaware of a half-cent sales tax ballot measure that will be on the same November ballot that could vault him onto the council.
When asked about the ballot measure, dubbed Measure U, Al said “Measure U being, being what?” After having the issue explained to him, Al said, “I have to do a little more research on that.”
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