CT Post columnist Keila Torres Ocasio writes a moving piece about Danny Martinez, the former city councilman, who passed away on Wednesday.
Daniel Martinez spent his life caring for others. Sadly, it was his inability to take care of himself that caused his unexpected death Wednesday at the age of 26.
I met Danny in January 2008. He just had been elected the youngest member of the Bridgeport City Council and had been given the second-highest ranking position on the council–president pro tempore.
I immediately liked him. He was soft-spoken, respectful and super-ambitious. Danny was going to be mayor. And the first Puerto Rican president of the United States. As long as he believed in himself, he was unstoppable, he said, his voice strong and clear.
Sitting behind his own desk in his own office across from the mayor’s suite, Danny’s voice faltered only when he talked about his weight. At just 21 years old, Danny weighed 400 pounds.
He recounted the fear he felt while watching a reality show about the struggles of individuals who were morbidly obese. He planned to pursue a healthier diet and find a fitness trainer.
It breaks my heart to say Danny continued to say that for the next four years.
For his mother, Alicia Lopez, it was frustrating because Danny, her only son, excelled in everything else.
As a child, Danny developed a love for God and singing. He wandered around the house singing into broomsticks and hairbrushes and praying loudly every night while kneeling by his bed.
As an adult, he cultivated that faith and talent by singing and preaching in school hallways, karaoke bars and church choirs. He was an active member of the youth ministry at Iglesia Cristiana Renacer.
As a child, Danny would practice victory speeches for the day when he became mayor of his beloved Bridgeport.
Among the many honors he received during his time at Bassick High School was the Promising Male Youth award from the Connecticut Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.
And his future was promising. While serving as councilman, Danny was not afraid to speak out against fellow council members or stage rallies to fight the blight and decay of East Side neighborhoods. “Danny loved his city,” said Maria Valle, his council partner from 2007 to 2009. “Danny wanted the best for his constituents. He asked the best for them, never for himself.”
But his outspoken nature and passion did not sit well with this city’s shameful Democratic Town Committee. They did not endorse him for a second term. Yet Danny didn’t need a fancy title to stand up for others.
“He always put everybody (else) first,” said Emmanuel Alicea, Danny’s best friend. Alicea, who paused often to hold back tears, said the only negative thing about Danny was his inability to realize the danger of being obese.
Lopez, who herself struggled with obesity before undergoing gastric bypass surgery, tried for eight years to convince her son that he needed medical intervention.
But Danny argued that he liked the way he was and wanted people to accept him that way.
His friends and family watched with sadness and fear as it got harder and harder for Danny to walk, drive or do many things on his own. Friends and family members began helping with household chores, buying groceries, delivering warm meals and taking him on errands.
Finally, in August, they convinced him to seek medical help. He even agreed to have gastric bypass surgery, Lopez said, sobbing.
Family and friends finally had hope.
Since then, he was in and out of the hospital and wasn’t healthy enough for the surgery. Still, he was getting help and telling everyone who visited that he would get better in time to run for mayor in 2014.
But it was too late. Danny’s lungs were no longer getting enough oxygen.
On Wednesday night, Danny’s father, Felipe, watched as his son came to the realization that he was dying.
“He said ‘Daddy, I want to go home,’” Martinez said, choking back sobs. “He said, ‘I don’t want to be here. Don’t leave me alone.’”
Minutes later, Martinez was certain Danny went home. Not with his father on Earth but with his Father in heaven.
And the city of Bridgeport lost someone who would have certainly made a great mayor.