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David Martin; ran campaign finance for top Democrats

David Martin.
David Martin.Family handout

Among those who labor behind the scenes to get candidates elected, David Martin held a heralded place among the unheralded, respected for his campaign finance expertise and for a sense of humor that defused moments when nerves fray.

“David was as good as it gets,” said Representative Joseph Kennedy III, a Democrat who sought Mr. Martin’s talents while running for Congress. When Kennedy and his campaign manager put together a finance team, Mr. Martin’s firm “was the first place we turned. His reputation was well-earned and well-deserved.”

In the world of campaign finance compliance – a phrase that can make a candidate’s palms sweat – Mr. Martin’s expertise was particularly valued when what’s known simply as “the report” had to be filed with state or federal regulatory offices.

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“Oh my God, it’s like your taxes. The magnitude of that just rises up,” said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who also relied on Mr. Martin. “David was always that mild-mannered, even-keeled person, even when people around me got rattled. He was just the consummate professional all the time. He brought you through a stressful moment helping you realize everything’s going to be OK.”

Mr. Martin, who ran the Chick Montana Group campaign finance firm with his wife, Gemma Ward Martin, died June 25 in his Dedham home of pseudomyxoma peritonei, a rare cancer. He was 52.

“I dealt with him in a lot of campaigns,” said Jack Corrigan, who was deputy campaign manager for Michael S. Dukakis’s 1988 presidential run when he met Mr. Martin. “He was totally reliable. He could practice law without being a lawyer when it came to finance law. Lawyers consulted him.”

Bill Elsbree, treasurer for John F. Kerry’s 1996 US Senate reelection campaign against then-Governor William Weld, said that while campaign finance is “a thankless job, I think David was comfortable not being out front, but being in back taking satisfaction that things were running smoothly.”

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Mr. Martin “did everything that was asked of him and more, and did it with his calm, steady hand throughout,” Elsbree said. “He and his wife even had a baby in the middle of the campaign and he kept the whole shop running.”

During that campaign, the first of three daughters born to Mr. Martin and his wife generated one of his infrequent news appearances – a Names and Faces item. For those in campaign finance, staying out of the spotlight is a point of pride. “A lot of attention is paid to people who try to get in the news,” Elsbree said. “We’re a crowd that tries to avoid it. The whole issue here is, if it runs well, nobody hears about David Martin.”

Mr. Martin was more likely to be quoted through his work for the Town of Dedham, where he chaired the Finance Committee for many years. In that role he was an architect of the municipality’s financial policies, said Paul Munchbach, a longtime friend who is Dedham’s town clerk. “He also was very instrumental with many of the younger candidates with their campaign finance,” Munchbach said. “He would help get their campaign finance documents done and make sure they were in compliance.”

Munchbach added that Mr. Martin “was such a quiet man, and he never asked for anything in return. He did it because he loved the town he was in and he loved being involved. He was a great guy.”

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Mr. Martin grew up in Lakewood, Colo., a Denver suburb. His father, Dick, was an editor at the Denver Post, and his mother, the former Ellen Nelson, was a receptionist in a doctor’s office.

He graduated from Colorado College, receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science. His parents had been active in local Democratic committees, and Mr. Martin worked on the campaigns of Senator Tim Wirth, a Colorado Democrat, and Gary Hart’s 1988 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. He left Hart to work in Iowa for the Dukakis campaign, before being summoned to the main headquarters in Boston.

There he met Gemma Ward, another campaign worker, and made an immediate impression. “His lunch would be a straight-up Coke, full strength, and some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” she recalled.

“He was living in Chelsea and was going anywhere and everywhere on the T. He loved public transportation,” she added. “I said I’d take him to Maine so he could see the coast. He thought it was a date and I didn’t. So a week later we had a real date.”

They married and had three daughters while Mr. Martin worked on a succession of campaigns for Democrats and also managed finances for the public policy think tank MassINC.

“I would say that for most of the time in which I worked with him, I felt like I was working for him, which is one of David’s particularly effective ways of doing what he does,” said Tripp Jones, a MassINC cofounder. “We were a fledgling, growing, struggling startup back then, and David held my feet to the fire and held me accountable.”

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Mr. Martin did so with “an incredible twinkle in his eye and a very dry sense of humor,” Jones said. “I felt like I was the piano for the guy. He knew exactly how to have the most fun striking different chords. It didn’t matter if you were the boss or anybody else. He knew how to keep you on your toes.”

Jones added that Mr. Martin “was a real treasure. Those of us who had the pleasure to work with him are super, super lucky.”

A service has been held for Mr. Martin, who in addition to his wife leaves his daughters, Allison, Emily, and Vivian, all of Dedham, and a brother, Chris of Ridgway, Colo.

“He loved his girls,” Gemma said. “When they were little and he worked for MassINC, each one of them got a special day when they could take the train into the office, go out to lunch, do whatever they wanted.”

About a dozen years ago, the couple founded the Chick Montana Group, named after a villain Mr. Martin liked on the “Perry Mason” TV series. To every task Mr. Martin brought unflagging energy. “When you work from home, it’s always there,” Gemma said. “I would get up at the late hour of 7 a.m. and he would have been working for two hours.”

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Yet throughout he used his wry, deadpan wit to make campaign work feel more manageable for candidates and colleagues.

“He did not change,” Corrigan said. “His sense of what was important in life? He stuck with it. And he was very courageous in maintaining his sense of humor the whole way.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.