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Hispanic-American Martinez wins handily in Loganville

LOGANVILLE -- Tuesday's election marked the first time a Hispanic-American had won a contested election to city council in the rapidly growing -- but not so rapidly diversifying -- city of Loganville.

Local restauranteur Rey Martinez, 41, won in commanding fashion.

Among five candidates vying for three at-large seats, he garnered the most votes (655), with more than 60 percent of voters casting ballots for him -- in a city more than 90 percent white.

"One of the things that helped, he had some old-guard support," said incumbent opponent Mark Kiddoo, who was elected to serve alongside Martinez in an additional three-year term. "He had a lot of people helping him."

Martinez attributed his win to old-fashioned, grassroots campaigning. His quest started in July and continued through Monday, when he pedaled a borrowed mountain bike through Loganville reminding residents to vote in both state and city elections, he said.

"Of all the five candidates, I worked the hardest," said Martinez, a U.S. Navy servicemember who served two tours in the Middle East. "I'm so proud to be representing all backgrounds. We're all one."

But what could have been viewed as a milestone raised questions about Martinez's business acumen a day after the election.

Martinez, whose parents emigrated from Cuba to Miami, operated Rey's Cuban Grill on U.S. Highway 78 for three years. A dispossessory notice filed in Gwinnett State Court last week shows Martinez owes his landlord, an Atlanta-based partnership, more than $42,000 in rent and fees.

A Gwinnett judge ordered Sheriff's Deputies to evict Martinez from his suite in the Loganville Commons shopping center Oct. 26.

Asked about his business Wednesday, Martinez maintained that his lease had expired and that he's seeking a new location, perhaps in a defunct Quiznos Subs in the city limits, he said.

Martinez will be the second Hispanic-American to serve on the council, following Pedro Vega, who in January 2009 filled a seat vacated by a council member who moved outside the city limits.

Vega, a Gwinnett County Public Schools resource officer, was beaten 11 months later by political newcomer Dan Curry, a member of Loganville's Planning and Development Commission.

Martinez challenged Vega for the open council seat but was disqualified for not being a registered voter, said Loganville election superintendent Kristie Ash.

Vega was the first Hispanic-American council member "as far back as I've been able to trace," Ash said Wednesday.

Recent Census data show the city of Loganville's population has roughly doubled to 11,000 residents since 2000, while some demographics have barely changed. The percentage of white residents in 2000 (92 percent) and Hispanics (3.4) mirrors those of 2009.

Martinez campaigned on a platform that called for keeping Loganville business-friendly. Part of his strategy, he said, will be to reduce impact fees and other fees pertaining to opening small businesses.