Alba Martínez: The influential Latina at the forefront of the Kenney transition team
Mayor-elect Jim Kenney recently released the names of a large — and diverse — group of people who will guide policy and personnel decisions before he takes office in January.
And at the forefront are the co-chairs of his transition team. One is a familiar face — Representative Dwight Evans, who has represented the 203rd district in Philadelphia since 1981. The other co-chair is Latina lawyer Alba Martínez.
While Martinez may not yet be the household name Evans is, she undoubtedly one of the most influential Latinas in the city.
A former CEO of United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania; former commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, and former executive director of Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Martinez is currently the principal in Vanguard’s Retail Investor Group and was, for a brief time, rumored to be a potential mayoral candidate herself. In January of this year, when former City Solicitor Ken Trujillo himself dropped out of the mayoral primary race, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that he urged Martinez to run for the office. She politely declined and instead became Kenney’s policy chair, working with volunteers and members of this campaign team to write what she describes as “at least 60 pages of policy ideas and plans: that spanned ethics, pre-K education and technology access, opportunities for previously incarcerated individuals, and more.
“I have known Jim Kenney since the time I was Commissioner of DHS from 2000 to 2005,” Martinez said, “and I always thought he was smart, caring and thoughtful. When Jim jumped in the race, I felt we had a candidate that could bring people together, and also, someone who had a record of getting difficult things done.”
Martinez, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, is the daughter of teachers in the rural area of Jayuya who, though not into politics specifically, strongly believed in public service and passed that belief on to her.
“The Latino community in Philly, for me, was always inspiring and a reason to fight for opportunity, justice and resources,” she said.
“I got involved in politics back in the 1980s because of the belief that we could make good things happen in Philadelphia's Latino community if we built close relationships with people who had policy-making power,” she added, “so they could be more aware of the community needs, and feel compelled to take action.”
After Kenney won the May primary, Martinez says the policy work continued, shifting more towards planning for the possibility that he would become mayor. “We did not want to be presumptuous, but we did want to be prepared,” Martinez said. “What would the qualities of a great leadership team be? What should the government organizational structure be? What would be the top priorities to focus on and how would be execute on them?”
Now, as co-chair of the transition chair, the work shifts again.
“First let me say, it is a huge honor to serve as the co-chair of the Kenney Transition Committee with State Representative Dwight Evans,” Martinez said. “Our goal is to provide guidance and volunteer oversight of a process focused on identifying the best and the brightest talent that wants to serve in government, or outside of government as volunteers, to work hard, as a team, over the next four to eight years of a Kenney Administration so that all Philadelphia families and neighborhoods thrive.”
Though she will not be one of Kenney’s cabinet members, she said she will volunteer to work with him throughout his term.
“If we want our city to prosper, we all have to lend a hand regardless of our role,” she said. “I believe the Kenney Administration will be smart, team oriented and diverse, and will include representation from the Latino community. Most importantly, the community's issues will be known, and will matter to Jim and his administration.”
If she were in Kenney’s shoes, she says the first challenge she’d take on in the city would be education. “Our children and families in every neighborhood need a high performing educational system. It is an important bridge to the future,” she said. “But I have to say, my belief is that the entrance to that bridge for children is growing up in a loving, safe home with parents and caretakers who provide them love, guidance, positive examples, and who make education important.”
“Jim Kenney wants to make sure all children in Philadelphia have access to quality pre-school and that is his one of his top priorities,” Martinez continued. “He also wants to see community schools in our neighborhoods, that offer a broader array of services and supports to children and families: schools becoming welcoming community centers. These are two educational initiatives I am really excited about because the first few years of life are incredibly important to our children's future, and schools should be places that draw families and neighborhoods together. I am looking forward to Jim's leadership!”
She was a bit guarded when asked about whether she has greater political aspirations. “My aspiration is to do the best I can each day to serve others, and I am deeply committed to our city and to our families and neighborhoods,” she said. “There are many ways to serve and have an impact — politics is just one of them and is not necessarily the way I will choose.”
“I think politics is not easy to enter into,” she said when asked about the dearth of Latinas in politics locally and nationally. “It is expensive to run a campaign, and the personal sacrifices are significant. In addition, like in most circles, it is hard to ‘break into’ politics as an outsider.”
Can she see Philadelphia with a Latino/a mayor?
“Absolutely a possibility,” she said, then elaborated what she sees as a viable trajectory. “I imagine that we will see increased representation of Latinas and Latinos in politics. For people that are passionate about the idea, a good first step is to get involved as a volunteer, get smart about it by reading about politics, learn from others, find a job in politics as an aide. Jim Kenney started as a volunteer close to 30 years ago.”