The Independent Florida Alligator, March 2, 2000, page 3

Downtown conditions fuel Martinez campaign

By Zophia Rendon, Alligator Staff Writer

For the past two years, Ernest and Debbie Martinez have fought an uphill battle to keep the front of their downtown eatery, Ernesto's Tex-Mex -Cafe, free of ants and vomit.

The ants aren't there for the tacos. They come to eat the sugary wads of gum left on the sidewalk by Ecstasy users who chew bubble gum-filled lollipops to keep their teeth from chattering, a side-effect of the drug, Debbie said.

The vomit is left there by drunken bar patrons. The cafe, at 6 S. Main St., happens to be in the middle of the downtown club scene - and next door to Simons Club.

For years clubgoers have lined up in front of Simons and the other clubs along Main Street near Ernesto's Tex-Mex Cafe, Debbie said, and the couple has watched patrons stumble around, sucking on pacifiers and lollipops. More than a few times, they have seen students fall to the ground in a drunken, drugged-up stupor. Someone usually calls an ambulance from the payphone on the corner, she said.

But in the last two months - after the City Commission enacted the 2 a.m. closing time for bars - things have gotten better, Debbie said. That is why Ernest Martinez supports the commission's decision.

"Closing alcohol establishments at the hour that alcohol sales end protects the safety and health of our youth and entire community," Martinez, who was unavailable for a personal interview, stated in written correspondence.

But the things Ernest and Debbie Martinez have seen and the position they take on the closing time does not mean they are against students.

"I hire college students, and I value what they have to say about the rampant drug activity that occurs after 2 a.m. in alcohol establishments," Ernest wrote.

Martinez said he decided in December to seek a seat on the commission after listening to community members' concerns about unsafe downtown conditions. Since then, he has been running what he refers to as a "Mom and Pop" campaign for the at-large seat.

He has less money flowing into his coffer than two of his three fellow candidates - a total of $2,233 as of Feb. 25. Tom Fox has twice as much, and Warren Nielsen has almost six times the amount of money as Martinez.

But Martinez said he is not worried about the campaign contributions. He knows he is an "underdog" but feels he can win the election on March 14.

"I'm no stranger to hard work," he wrote.

And he means it. Martinez's life did not start out easy. Born into a poor family in Lamesa, Texas, Martinez spent the early years of his life, from age 6 through high school, picking cotton in the fields of his hometown and in nearby Lubbock.

He enlisted in the U.S. Navy to fight in Vietnam, where he was a machine gun operator on a river patrol boat for three years. After he was shot in the arm in 1969, he decided not to re-enlist.

Things began to look up for him when he attended the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he received a two-year degree in radiographic technology. He met his wife, Debbie, when he began selling X-ray equipment.

Debbie, a Gainesville native, brought him home to visit her family each year after they married in 1984. They both liked Gainesville so much that they moved here six years ago and opened their restaurant.

Since then, Martinez said he has listened to the concerns of the downtown business people and community members and has cooked up some ideas to make Gainesville better.

He believes in strengthening landlord licenses in single family neighborhoods to keep investors from renting to "large groups of students, leading to parking and lifestyle conflicts," according to his campaign flier.

The same flier also stated that he wants to "keep control of our city." He added later that more police presence downtown would help deter the alcohol and drug problems.

Maybe then sidewalks can be free of lollipops and vomit, Debbie explained.