Naval air combat veteran files for shot at succeeding Ted Deutch

Curtis Calabrese ART
Curtis Calabrese said the Jan. 6 insurrection was a personal clarion call to public office, just like Sept. 11 drew him to the military.

A U.S. Navy air combat veteran is making his first bid for public office, filing to challenge Jared Moskowitz for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Ted Deutch in Congress.

Curtis Calabrese is a Boca Raton native who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He said the attempted Jan. 6 insurrection is calling him to run to represent Florida’s 22nd Congressional District the same way the Sept. 11 terrorist attack drew him to run air combat missions against U.S. enemies.

“As a Naval aviator I accomplished the mission in dangerous and extreme environments to serve America with devotion, duty and honor,” he said in a 90-second video that features planes and swelling music. “On Jan. 6, 2021, that calling was never stronger and I’m answering it again. It’s time for real leadership with integrity and sacrifice.”

Calabrese was honorably discharged from the Navy and went on to become a safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The gig landed him on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2019 and other media outlets so he could explain what was at stake during the federal government shutdown. He was a union leader during his FAA stint and a spokesman.

Now he’s a United Airlines pilot who, if elected, would be the first openly LBGTQ member of Congress from Florida. But he says he’s tired of the way politics have become shouting matches full of outrageous statements and memes. In particular, he wants legislation that will end the repetitive government shutdowns he’s seen firsthand putting American lives at risk.

“We need a course correction in order to maintain our democracy,” Calabrese said.

He recalled working as a referee when he was 14 years old, and it was explained to him that he should be like a blade of grass.

“The goal of a referee is to regulate and be invisible because it’s all about the people on the field having a good time. … If everybody remembers the referee, that means you’ve done your job poorly,” he said. “I believe as politicians it should be the same way. We should just be a blade of grass in our democracy that supports it, rather than the entertainment news every night.”

Three Republicans have filed to run to represent the congressional district that spans Broward and Palm Beach counties. The district leans heavily Democratic, however, so the winner of the Democratic Primary Election in August will likely claim the seat. To get the Democratic nod, Calabrese will be facing an uphill battle.

Moskowitz, now a Broward County Commissioner, was first elected to the Parkland City Commission at age 25 and has assumed high-profile roles ever since. Last week, Moskowitz announced he’s assembled a war chest of more than $650,000 and the endorsement of 70 Florida elected politicians from School Board members to former Congressmen.

Calabrese, who is married with two dogs, said the challenge is exciting.

“I always accomplish the mission,” he said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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