Raul Martinez has no doubt: Hialeah fell apart without him — and he’s just the man to fix things.
Martinez, who reigned over Miami-Dade County’s second-largest city for 24 years, left the mayor’s chair in 2005. He fished. He sunbathed in the Caribbean. He lost a bid for Congress and flirted with a county seat.
Now he wants his kingdom back.
Martinez, 62, is running for Hialeah strong mayor again, having been gone long enough to point out what his successors did wrong — and short enough to still credit himself for what he did right.
“I hear a lot of criticism about the past, but you know, you’re enjoying it today,” he said with a grin this week in a debate against his rivals, Mayor Carlos Hernandez, former state Sen. Rudy Garcia and political newcomer George Castro.
The swashbuckling Martinez, one of South Florida’s most successful — and polarizing — political figures, knows better than to run a campaign based solely on raving about the past. He also trumpets future plans, including building a public health clinic and affordable housing geared at single mothers and grandmothers raising their grandchildren.
And he concludes most appearances with one of those lines only a masterful politician can deliver well.
“Today, Hialeah doesn’t need a politician,” he says. “It needs a good administrator.”