More on our Man of Mystery
May 24, 2011 | 3950 views | 0 0 comments | 63 63 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Who would have thought that when we ran this picture a few weeks back of then-Governor Mario Cuomo and Mets ace Ron Darling and half-heartedly asked readers to identify the third man - “Mr. X” - in the photo that we would actually get responses?

In fact, as we have been informed, the third man in the photo is just as important and accomplished as the other two, just not as instantly recognizable. The “man of mystery” is a mystery no longer: he is Julio Martinez, former commissioner of the New York State Division of Substance Abuse Services (DSAS), which is the forerunner of the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS).

One reader was even able to tell us what event was taking place when the photo was taken. It was a launch for a new drug prevention initiative. The phrase "You've Got What It Takes" was put on book covers and handed out to school kids.

As a former employee of OASAS told us, Martinez is widely regarded as a pioneer in the field of drug rehabilitation beginning in the 1970s, particularly programs geared toward the Latino population. Eventually, his leadership would lead to the expansion and availability of similar programs throughout New York State.

Martinez knew what he was talking about. Born in Puerto Rico in 1944, he moved with his family to the Bronx when he was just two years old. By his early teens, Martinez was already struggling with drug addiction, and had been convicted of several drug-related crimes. It wasn't until late 1966 at Beth Israel Medical Center that he finally achieved sobriety for good.

In 1967, it was announced that people in the treatment program Martinez was in would be moved to Hart Island. Martinez and several of his fellow patients felt that this would be like moving into the prisons they had hoped to leave behind, and felt they would be better off in the community and not ostracized from it.

So they pooled their welfare checks together and got an apartment on West 85th Street in a drug-addled community, despite the high risk of a relapse. Thus, the Phoenix House was born.

This therapeutic community-type program for treating addiction caught the attention of high-ranking government officials. Martinez would go on to work for the city's Addiction Services Agency, and in in 1979 he was appointed the commissioner of DSAS.

Allegations surfaced of improper allocation of state funding, which led to an investigation, but a report absolved Martinez of any criminal activity. However, disillusioned by the charges, Martinez resigned in 1989.

He would continue to work in the arena of drug treatment until his untimely death from cancer in 1955.

So there you have it, mystery solved. Expect us here at Pol Position to return to our juvenile observations on the world of New York City politics next week.



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