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Mel Martínez: 1947—: Cabinet Secretary

Helped Bush Win Florida

Martínez was also attracting attention in national Republican circles. When the brother of Governor Jeb Bush became the GOP frontrunner in the 2000 presidential race, Martínez was named as co-chair of the state campaign to elect Texas governor George W. Bush to the White House. Martínez also became a member of Florida's Electoral College, a 25-member panel that played a key role in the contested race. Democratic candidate Al Gore was initially declared the winner of the Florida electoral votes, but the media then retracted the projection. As a case for disputed ballots arose, several Florida counties began a manual recount, but a U.S. Supreme Court decision put an end to the recount, and Bush was declared the winner in December of 2000.

Martínez became one of Bush's first cabinet appointees a week later. At a press conference, the president-elect mistakenly referred to Martínez as his pick to head the department of "housing and human development," but did praise the Cuban American as the embodiment of the American dream. "He's got a wonderful story," Bush stated at that press conference, according to a report by New York Times journalist Christopher Marquis. "He was a refugee, as a young boy, from Cuba. He understands American values; he's grown to appreciate them." Martínez was equally pleased to find himself before reporters as a Cabinet nominee. "Today, for me, is a fulfillment of the promise of America," Martínez told reporters, according to Marquis, "the promise that regardless of where you come from, what language you speak, the color of your skin or your economic circumstances, if you share the dream of a brighter tomorrow, and you're willing to pursue it with respect for others and have an abiding faith in God, all things are possible."

Martínez was confirmed as HUD secretary on January 23, 2001 by a Senate vote of 100-0. The Florida Republican Party chair, Al Cardenas, told Baum in the Los Angeles Times that Martínez was a solid pick for the job, and the ease of his confirmation hearings were no surprise. "He has been managing a place with an exploding population and overseeing all the infrastructure problems that creates—in housing, in transportation, in education," said Cardenas.

Martínez took over a department with a $30 billion budget and 9,100 employees. HUD's function is to ensure that all Americans have equal access to housing. It provides loans for first-time home buyers, block grants for troubled neighborhoods, a rent voucher program for low-income families, and works to eradicate abandoned and dilapidated housing. It also maintains public housing complexes across the country and helps the elderly and disabled keep and maintain their homes. Martínez stressed in an interview with Washington Post writer Ellen Nakashima that he was not about to undertake any major overhaul. "One thing I don't want to do is reinvent HUD," he told the newspaper. "There's been too much of that over the last several years. We need some stability. I want to find those things that are working, encourage them; find those things that need improvement and try to change those around."

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Al Loving Biography - Loved Painting from Early Age to Alice McGill Biography - PersonalMel Martínez: 1947—: Cabinet Secretary Biography - Cuban Refugee, Helped Bush Win Florida, Pledged To Fulfill Hud Aims