Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Melquiades Martinez (2001–2003): Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

In 2000, Mel Martinez became the first Cuban American cabinet member when President-elect George W. Bush appointed him head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

A native of Cuba, Martinez came to the United States in 1962 at the age of fifteen, living in a foster home and working his way through school. After graduating from the Florida State University College of Law in 1973, Martinez joined an Orlando firm and practiced personal injury law.

In 1984, the town's mayor and Martinez's former law partner appointed him chairman of the Orlando Housing Authority. Two years later, he served as president of the Orlando Utilities Commission. In 1994, Martinez ran for lieutenant governor in the Republican primary. Though he lost, Martinez became friends with the winner, Jeb Bush, who appointed him head of Florida's 23-member Growth Management Study Commission.

In 1998, Martinez became Orange County chairman, a position analogous to mayor of the economically dynamic county that is home to Orlando and Walt Disney World. While chairman, Martinez showed sensitivity to diversity issues and the housing needs of low-income persons.

In 2000, he cochaired the Florida Republican Committee, working hard for Bush's election, and also served as one of the states 25 Republican electors. Martinez was confirmed by the Senate to lead HUD by a unanimous vote of 100-0. He resigned his post in December 2003.