Our man in Baghdad has made his mark on Iraq. And that is to be expected, since Andy Martin always makes his mark -- even if sometimes he's the only one who can see it.
Martin, a U.S. Senate candidate who calls Fort Lauderdale home, claims he has all but found Saddam Hussein. During three visits to Iraq, the 57-year-old Martin says he searched city streets, bomb craters, and the countryside for the fallen dictator. He was a one-man task force, though he had the help of a couple of feral Iraqi dogs that he tamed and trained while staying at the Palestine Hotel.
He says he's determined Hussein's location with 90 percent certainty (he has already made a claim for the $25 million reward on the dictator's head), and he expects the Bush administration to finally take heed of his efforts. "I went through the whole city and down as far as Najaf and Karbala," says Martin, an unorthodox Republican running for the seat held by presidential candidate Bob Graham. "I sniffed a little bit in the Sunni triangle [between Baghdad and Tikrit], but I didn't think he was there. Saddam is in Baghdad, I'm convinced of that fact."
After a few weeks in the country during his most recent trip, the graying but game Martin left Baghdad, traversed the Highway of Death to Amman, and, before flying home to South Florida, stopped in Israel to give a rousing speech. "Tear down this wall, Mr. Sharon!" he said at a largely unattended July 3 press conference near a checkpoint as Israeli bulldozers powered up behind him.
As if that weren't enough, Martin produced local headlines at the same time. The Florida Elections Commission ruled that Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty had broken laws in her unseemly bid to unseat three Florida Supreme Court justices who voted to allow a vote recount in the 2000 presidential election. McCarty, a rabid Republican, could be fined as much as $450,000 for her transgressions.
The man who dug up the facts and filed the original complaint against McCarty: Andy Martin.
And there you have it. Our man in Baghdad is an American hero. How many of you have left your living rooms to personally search for Saddam? Or made a courageous political statement on the world's stage? Or fought political corruption in your own party?
Ah, but there is a dark cast to the brilliance. Martin, of course, is mad. Quite mad. He's an enigma wrapped in a riddle who probably should be wrapped in a straitjacket. The would-be senator is one of the most prolific and compulsive lawsuit filers in the United States, a first-class shadow-dwelling fugitive from justice, and a perennial also-ran political candidate whose stance on the issues has changed about as often as Michael Jackson's proboscis.
So he fits right into the South Florida political scene, where he's been a phantom presence for about 20 years.
We begin his story with the great film director David Lean, naturally. Remember Lawrence of Arabia? Well, Martin claims his English grandfather fought with T.E. Lawrence against the Turks before joining a British military intelligence unit and disappearing for good. Should you believe that? Probably not, but I do.
Martin himself was born in 1945 in Connecticut to mother Helen, a college English teacher, and Ralph, an absentee father. He doesn't talk much about his late father, but Martin, whose actual name is Anthony Robert Martin-Trigona, is very close to his now-retired mother. While she taught at the University of Illinois, he attended the school and graduated from its law school in 1970.
The Illinois Supreme Court, however, refused to admit him to the bar, pointing to a military psychiatric exam that allegedly found him to have personality defects that include delusions involving both paranoia and grandeur. The test results sound about right, but the snubbing by the state court does seem a bit overboard. Martin, in his grandiloquent fashion, insists the exam was all trumped-up nonsense created by judges and lawyers whom he was exposing as corrupt bribe-takers.
"I helped start Operation Greylord," he explains, referring to the landmark federal corruption case in Chicago that netted some 13 judges and 51 attorneys in the 1980s.
Cast out of the legal community, Martin began filing lawsuits -- and he has yet to stop. He's responsible for hundreds of them during the past three decades, against governmental entities, companies, and personal enemies. Many are true public interest lawsuits, but others are for just plain revenge (he once filed court papers to try to be appointed legal guardian of the children of a judge he was feuding with).
Numerous courts have sanctioned Martin for his efforts, including the Florida Supreme Court, which called him one of Florida's most "active, as well as abusive," litigants. He often responds to sanctions by filing suits against the judges who rule against him.
Martin has been a very busy man but rarely holds an actual job. At one time, he brokered real estate in Chicago, but one deal ended with a 1980 mail-fraud conviction, which was later overturned.
Through the years, he made the ballot for numerous local and federal races in Illinois, New York, and Connecticut. After following his mother down to Florida, he's been as busy as ever, running for governor twice, the state Senate, a couple of flings for the presidency, and three times for the U.S. Senate.
Martin never won a race, but he made some headlines. In 1994, he was found to have broken election laws when he accepted a $50,000 campaign loan from Mom. While Martin is cagey about his finances, I think that loan, plus a courtroom admission that Mom pays his rent and telephone bills, gives a clue about who finances his many far-flung ventures. When I asked him about his net worth, he said it's about zero.
His most high-profile campaign came in 1996, when it was alleged that he'd run anti-Semitic campaigns in the past, including authorization of a committee in 1986 called "The Anthony R. Martin-Trigona Congressional Campaign to Exterminate Jew Power in America."
Martin denies involvement, though he allegedly made anti-Semitic remarks in a bankruptcy case in 1983. While he touts a two-state solution for the Middle East in his "Andy Martin Peace Plan," says he's close to the peace movement in Israel, and has proposed increased compensation for Holocaust victims, the candidate also called for the Bush administration to attack Israel instead of Iraq. He has compared Ariel Sharon to Adolf Hitler and has written in defense of Hamas suicide bombers. He's skating the edge, but then, someone needs to offset the neocon hawks in the Bush administration.
The 1996 allegations led the Republican Party to renounce him, and the negative publicity may have gotten to him: Just before the election, he went after two WPTV-Channel 5 cameramen in West Palm Beach, knocking one camera to the floor and breaking a microphone off the other. He didn't feel like being interviewed, apparently.
Awaiting trial on charges of criminal mischief related to his outburst, he spent two months in jail, where he staged a hunger strike and often refused to wear clothes. He was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to a year in jail -- another stiff penalty (hell, some Hollywood stars break a camera or two every time they leave the house). "Judges just love to demonize me," Martin says.
He was freed pending an appeal but was ordered right back to jail -- this time for seven months -- for contempt of court when he turned to television cameras inside a civil courtroom to say that the sitting judge was "bought and paid for" and a "psychiatric case."
After Martin served the first month, deputies released him prematurely by accident. Martin didn't look back, so a warrant was put out for his arrest. After losing his appeal on the criminal charges, he owes Palm Beach County about 16 months in jail. "The warrant is active," Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Det. Clayton Ginn told me. "Do you have any information on him?"
Though I'd go to jail myself before turning him in, Martin always found an excuse never to meet with me face to face. He uses a toll-free number and, when he's not in Iraq, spends his time in New York City (where he occasionally gives street-corner "press conferences"), Washington, D.C., and Florida. "I'm not avoiding the police -- I think they are avoiding me," Martin says before alleging that deputies are conspiring with a local law firm to kidnap him. He promised that a future multimillion-dollar lawsuit would explain the entire mess.
As a fugitive, Martin still managed to run for Senate in 1998, do a regular radio show on WPBR-1300 AM in West Palm Beach, and make a quick fling in the 2000 presidential race, during which he ran a controversial television ad in Connecticut accusing George W. Bush of using cocaine. Martin, needless to say, is no party loyalist.
In fact, he has no business in either party. During the early days, he was a Democrat running on a pro-life agenda. Today, he's a Republican running on a pro-choice stance. Martin has called himself the "anti-Bush." He says he's anti-death penalty, pro-gay rights, anti-Patriot Act, and anti-Bush tax cut. He also opposed the Iraq War. "I'm a progressive Republican," he says. "I'm really a traditional conservative. I'll stay out of your bedroom if you stay out of mine. I tend toward the Libertarian. If you said I was a McCain Republican, I wouldn't argue. Neither one of us can stand the hypocrisy or the bullshit. But where I've been putting my mental energy for the past six months is foreign policy."
Back to Iraq. During his three visits since April, he has written columns for a West Palm Beach-based Internet media site called Out2.com., where he serves as the unpaid "Baghdad Bureau Chief."
"We need to get Paul Bremer off his ass and on the street talking to normal Iraqis," Martin says. American soldiers and civilian administrators "need to take off their bullet-proof vests like they want to be friends instead of acting like enemies. Bremer doesn't know what he's doing. He's isolated in the old Saddam palace complex. We should call it the Emerald City, because that's about as much substance as it has."
While staying in the Palestine Hotel, Martin became enamored of a couple of wild dogs, whom he named Lucy and Jake. He says he had a special "code" he used to call the dogs. Jake, sadly, was killed by a car while Martin was out of Baghdad. Lucy, however, is now a fixture with U.S. armed forces in the city and can be found happily guarding tanks. "I became the unofficial veterinarian for the First Armored Division," Martin says. "I brought medicines with me and gave neighborhood dogs shots."
The dogs helped him in his search for Saddam.
"In my claim to the government, I actually pinpointed the neighborhood where Saddam is," he says, "but I can't tell you where that is now, because that is in the claim."
Of course, he hasn't really found Hussein (and he had no idea that the dictator's now-dead sons were in Mosul). But that's classic Martin. I asked Cheryl Wells, his long-time friend and companion, if she thought he was really delusional. "I think anyone who runs for office has that personality defect in general," said Wells, who lives in an upscale beach condo in Fort Lauderdale that Martin calls his "temporary headquarters."
"I don't think he's any stranger than the other people running for office. I think you have to be somewhat delusional to run."
Good point. Look at two of the more high-profile politicians running for the same Senate seat, Republican Mark Foley and Democrat Peter Deutsch. Foley is a closeted gay man in the party of Rick Santorum who has been appealing to the Christian Right -- the same people who believe people like him should be imprisoned or executed -- across the state.
As for Deutsch, he's an ultra-Zionist who is just as one-sided for Israel as Martin is for the Arabs. Deutsch, a big backer of the Iraq War, has trotted about the political landscape with a suicide bomber's vest, a piece of propaganda meant to rile up animosity toward Palestinians.
In their company, Martin would seem right at home. And if the stars are in some bizarre alignment, he could actually make a decent run of it. In the 1998 Senate race against current Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, he won Miami-Dade County and received a third of the statewide vote. Some 184,621 Floridians punched the ballot for the fugitive.
But don't expect to see much of him on the campaign trail -- and not just because the law is after him but because he's still after Hussein. Our man is planning to head back to Baghdad in September.