Clearwater Loses a Valued Activist
by Carl Wagenfohr
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Clearwater Beach resident and community activist Marty Altner, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer on February 13th.
Marty emerged as a public figure in Clearwater during the so-called 2006 property tax revolt, when he delivered passionate speeches to the City Council and letters to the editors of local newspapers, arguing for property tax reform.
But Marty's activism began much earlier in his life. In the self-written tag line in his high school yearbook, Marty claimed responsibility for starting the Complaints Commission, an activity that he promised to continue when he entered Columbia University.
Marty kept his promise, graduating Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Political Science. Those who have seen him in action would not be surprised to learn that Marty was a member of Columbia's debate team. A peace activist, Marty traveled with his team to West Point, where he argued against continued US involvement in the Viet Nam war.
Following a year of graduate school, Marty invested four years of his life in community service, teaching 6th-graders with disciplinary problems in the South Bronx area of New York City. "He loved it. He loved to teach because that was one of Marty's talents; he loved to talk," Janis Altner, his wife of 28 years, related.
Marty next began a 20-some year career in New York's garment industry via a job offer from a childhood friend. Starting in sales, Marty was later made a partner in the company that was to become United Apparel. It was there that he met his future wife, Janis. They had two children, Cole and Shannon.
It was Marty's desire to be more active in the lives of his children that motivated him to leave the 12-hour New York workdays behind and move the family to Florida in 1994; "He always wanted to do all the things with the kids, like play baseball and be there for all the moments when they were in school; he didn't want to miss that," Janis said.
Marty's children provided him with the opportunity to be involved in baseball, a sport he grew to love as a childhood fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was active in the East Clearwater Safety Harbor Little League as a board member, and coached his daughter's softball team.
Marty was also active in his children's education as chairman of the Countryside High School SAC, and as a Sunday school teacher at Temple Ahavat Shalom.
Marty was a partner in the ownership and management of small apartment complexes in downtown Clearwater, and it was via that ownership that he became embroiled in the issue of what he termed the unfair distribution of Florida's property tax burden.
Always having a clear vision of the big picture, Marty argued for property tax reform not only for himself, but also for his tenants and the community as a whole. He posted in an online forum, "those most affected by the unfairly distributed property tax burden are working people who live in rentals, small business people who have the misfortune of having opened their businesses in Florida, their employees who may soon be out of work, and those who invested in duplexes, triplexes, small motels and hotels, many of who did so to augment their retirement income."
It is ironic that while area politicians and government planners talk about the need to provide low income and workforce housing, Marty was in the business of providing exactly that. And as local government entities continued to promote such housing initiatives, they were taxing Marty and his colleagues to the point where their rental real estate was becoming unprofitable.
Marty was recognized for his activism on the property tax issue with an appointment to Clearwater's 2006 Budget Task Force, where he was involved in making cost-cutting recommendations to the city. Board chairman Nathan Hightower called Marty "a real asset to the community in a number of ways."
"I respected Marty; he was passionate about everything that he believed in. And he was well informed, which is important to me. We had a good relationship," said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, who often found himself on the receiving end of Marty's speeches on property tax reform.
Countryside High School teacher and State House of Representatives candidate Carl Zimmerman said, "In one word, Marty was an activist. Whether he was active with drama, active with his kids' education, active with his kids' intramural sports, active with his Jewish faith... You name it, he was an activist in every single thing he did."
Our deepest sympathy goes out to Janis, Cole and Shannon Altner for their loss. We also share in the loss of a valued community activist and contributor to this newspaper.
Godspeed, Marty. Y'hi zichro baruch (may his memory be a blessing).
Donations may be made in Marty's name to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, CA 90245.
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