'He's an honest person': Former Florida governor, Tampa mayor reflects on memories of Jimmy Carter
TAMPA, Fla. - Over the weekend, former President Jimmy Carter went in to hospice care at his home in Georgia. At 98 years old, he's the longest living American president.
Former Florida Governor Bob Martinez remembers the phone call he got not long after he was first elected mayor of Tampa. He served as the city's mayor from 1979-1986.
"The hair on my arm just kind of stood up," Martinez said. "Next thing I know, there's a voice on the phone, and he says, 'Bobby, this is Jimmy.'"
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Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, was calling to say congratulations. He also offered Martinez a chance to meet in the Oval Office to discuss Federal programs that might help Tampa.
Former Tampa Mayor Bob Martinez shakes hands with former President Jimmy Carter during a meeting in 1979.
He visited in November 1979, just as Carter was ramping up his fight to win reelection.
"The first five or 10 minutes you are in there, you are awed by the fact that you are standing with the President of the United States," said Martinez.
Martinez was a Democrat back then, and Florida figured into Carter's hopes of beating Ronald Reagan, given Carter had won the state by five points in 1976. The Carters made several trips to Florida during the campaign.
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"Even when I was a little critical, he never came back in any way that you could interpret that he was angry or was offended," Martinez said.
Now, Martinez has met or known many presidents, including Gerald Ford, Reagan as well as both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. He even went on to serve in the first Bush administration from 1991-1993 as the drug czar.
But, Carter stands out for how he reacted even when inflation and the Iranian hostage crisis spun out of control.
"He was engaged, he's an honest person," Martinez said of Carter. "Despite all that was said and done on those days, those four years, you know, I never saw him ill-tempered or having a tantrum, so to speak, or blame the world for whatever was happening to him."
Another reason Carter stands out is his post-presidency. While other presidents have lived in mansions in Washington, Florida or New York, the Carters didn't, and they kept working.
"[He] stayed in his small town of Plains, Georgia, didn't move to big cities," said Martinez. "The Jimmy Carter that he started as, he ended as. And you can't ask for more than that in life."