Reynaldo Martinez dies, Harry Reid’s former chief of staff

Rey Martinez stands in front of the Reynaldo L. Martinez Elementary School in 2006, a North Las ...

Described by friends and colleagues as soft spoken, Reynaldo Martinez’s work in Nevada continues to resonate to this day.

Martinez, who died last month at 84, managed the late U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s successful campaigns in 1982 and 1984 for Congress as well as his 1986 campaign for Senate. He served as Reid’s chief of staff for 16 years until 1999.

“He was intense but not belligerent or a bullying type,” longtime friend and colleague Les Francis said. “He was very quiet, soft spoken, very effective especially with teachers who I think respond well to that kind of leadership.”

Martinez is the namesake of Reynaldo Martinez Elementary School, 350 Judson Ave., in North Las Vegas. The school was dedicated in his name in 2000, according to Review-Journal archives.

Martinez and Reid attended Basic High School in Henderson where Martinez became the first Hispanic student body president and then managed the campaign of his successor Reid, according to Chris Brown, a longtime political consultant of Reid.

“When you thought of Harry you thought of Rey,” Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom said.

Martinez died at his home in Incline Village on March 28. He is survived by his wife Diane and two sons, according to Francis.

“Because he was so close to Harry he might not have gotten the attention that he deserved as a person, but he really was in his own right a very prominent leader in education politics, Latino politics and politics in general,” Segerblom said. “He really changed the face of Nevada.”

Segerblom said Martinez was instrumental in helping the Democratic Party in Nevada focus on the growing Hispanic population in the state. Francis said Martinez’s inspiration, training and organization made the Hispanic constituency one of the most important in the state.

Martinez worked with Reid to block the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, establishing the Great Basin National Park and Truckee River Operating Agreement, according to Francis.

“Because he worked behind the scenes most of the time he probably is not as well known as his accomplishments and his role would warrant,” Francis said.

Francis and Martinez were friends for almost 60 years but had lost contact until earlier this year.Francis reached out to Martinez and heard from his wife that Martinez’s health was declining.

For the last three months, Francis said he visited his friend in Incline Village “half a dozen times” prior to his passing. The last visit was a week before Martinez died. They spoke on the phone the Saturday before Martinez died, and Francis said his friend could only speak for a few seconds.

Francis and Martinez met in the late 1960s through Martinez’s work with the National Education Association in legislative matters and as an organizer.

In one of his last visits with Martinez, Francis recalled his friend comparing his health to his time as a pitcher in high school and in college. Martinez said he was reminded of games “where in the sixth inning I knew I was running out of gas,” Francis recounted.

“It was poetic and poignant and candid,” Francis said.

Martinez married Diane who was a single mom with two sons. The couple were married for 42 years, and Francis said Martinez “became their father in name and in fact.”

“The love for Reynaldo on the part of his boys and the love for his boys on the part of Reynaldo was really touching,” Francis said. “It’s just one of those things you can’t fake.”

Contact David Wilson at dwilson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @davidwilson_RJ on Twitter.