1. Archive

Incumbent is targeted as criminal in District 65 race

Andy Steingold's brochures have to be among the most eye-catching political pamphlets ever mailed to Tampa constituents. Under the phrase "Put a stop to corrupt politicians" is a black-and-white mug shot of Elvin Martinez _ the booking photo, complete with numbers across Martinez' chest, taken at the U.S. Marshal's Office last year after the District 65 incumbent was indicted on income tax charges.

The stark photo and the slogan "Lawbreakers should not be lawmakers" set the tone for Steingold's campaign.

In his literature, he characterizes Martinez, 56, as a criminal who was convicted of federal tax violations, an attorney "defending felons, drunk drivers and drug dealers," and a legislator who has been ineffective during his 20 years in the Florida House.

"I can't believe he has the audacity to run for office while he's on federal probation," says Steingold, a 29-year-old Republican who has been with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office since 1987.

In contrast to Martinez, Steingold paints himself as a "law-abiding, hard-working, tax-paying citizen," an assistant state attorney "prosecuting felons, drunk drivers and drug dealers," and a man who "fights to make laws work."

Martinez' reputation has suffered this kind of pounding before, but his constituents and his friends in law enforcement have always rallied to the defense of the popular West Tampa Democrat.

In 1986, Martinez was accused of lying to a grand jury when he denied using cocaine and marijuana. He won re-election to his district seat with 64 percent of the vote while under indictment, and later was acquitted of the federal charges.

In 1989, he was accused by U.S. prosecutors of failing to file his income tax on time in order to postpone paying $31,492 in taxes. Martinez, who called the charges politically motivated, was convicted of the misdemeanor charges and sentenced to perform 300 hours of community service while on probation.

But among those who mobilized for his defense was the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA). Asked about the PBA's $1,000 contribution to the defense fund, PBA President Charles Maddox replied that Martinez was "one of the better friends law enforcement officers have ever had in Florida."

Martinez also has won the endorsement of the Hillsborough County Police Benevolent Association, and in mid-October, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Martinez was the recipient of its annual Crime Fighters Award.

The FDLE recognized the 10-term legislator for shepherding legislation that provided appropriations for crack cocaine squads, a new regional crime lab in Tampa and improvements in the state's crime information computer system.

In the meantime, Martinez's legal problems haven't hindered his fund-raising capability. Through Oct. 12, his campaign had collected $62,676 and spent $32,717, while Steingold's campaign had collected $14,801 and spent $8,889.

Both lawyers vying for the $22,560-a-year District 65 job say crime and education are chief among their concerns.

Martinez says the state needs to make sentencing guidelines "flexible enough so that (non-prison) alternatives are available for non-violent, non-repeat offenders." He wants to assure that the worst convicts aren't released from prison to make room for recently convicted felons, and he says there is a need for more drug treatment beds.

Steingold wants to close loopholes that prevent criminals from completing their entire sentences. He proposes to pay for new prison beds by making probationers pay into a special state fund, by putting those behind bars to work and by bringing in private industry to make prisons more efficient.

In education, Martinez says the state needs to appropriate more money for Head Start and dropout prevention programs. Steingold says the state needs to hire more teachers to improve student-teacher ratios.

Martinez says the state must take steps "to expand the tax base to meet the growth needs of Florida." He says Florida's homestead exemption is untouchable but favors taxing some services.

Steingold wants tougher fines for environmental polluters.

"Right now, it's cheaper for the company just to make the chemical spill and pay the fine," he says.