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Sundial Now: Jared Moskowitz on public service and running for U.S. Rep

WLRN-MOSKOWITZ
David Santiago
/
Miami Herald
Florida’s Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, next to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, talks to the media at a press conference in March 2020.

Bipartisanship and putting public service first is still possible in today’s polarized political climate, according to Jared Moskowitz.

Throughout his career, the Democratic nominee for Florida’s 23rd congressional district has been lauded and criticized for working with his political opponents — from helping pass a school safety bill after the Parkland shooting, to accepting a job in Governor Ron DeSantis’ office.

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“We've lost total sight of what public service is supposed to be. It's supposed to be about helping people and helping the country," Moskowitz told Sundial Now, in a wide-ranging conversation ahead of the midterms, when he faces off against Republican Joe Budd.

"Too many people are focused on hurting the other party or hurting each other or scoring political points or expanding their Twitter following. Those aren't the values that were instilled in me by my dad.”

It’s impossible to talk about Moskowitz’s political career without mentioning his father, Michael.

Michael Moskowitz was a powerhouse in the local democratic party. His Parkland home was a revolving door of politicians and donors. It’s how his son Jared got the taste for public service.

“I just remember being so enamored with, you know, with meeting people and talking to them about issues and fighting for the things I cared about,” the younger Moskowitz said.

The 41-year-old grew up in Parkland. He attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. After college and law school, he returned home and won his first election in 2006 — for a seat on the Parkland City Commission.

On February 14th, 2018, he was in a legislative session in Tallahassee. Then came a call from his wife.

“She was crying," he said. "She said that she just drove past Marjory Stoneman Douglas and she had never seen that many police before in her life.”

Moskowitz described the day to his colleagues in Tallahassee less than a month after the shooting during an emotional speech to pass gun control and school safety legislation he introduced.

His wife rushed to pick up their son Samuel who was in a nearby preschool, Moskowitz told colleagues. As the news of the mass shooting came in, Moskowitz flew home, then drove to his alma mater.

He waited in a hotel with the parents of the 17 victims as they were called in to identify their loved ones.

“I didn't hear crying. I heard screaming. It haunts me to this day,” he said.

Rep. Jared Evan Moskowitz
Mark Wallheiser
/
AP
Florida Rep. Jared Moskowitz walks around a group of college students and activists as they stage a die-in on the 4th-floor rotunda between the House and Senate chambers while the House took up the school safety bill at the Florida Capital in Tallahassee, Tuesday, March 6, 2018.

His bill was supported by all of those 17 families but barely passed the senate. Now he was trying to get it passed in the Florida house.

“At all these funerals all these parents had similar things. They all said the same thing. I thought my kid was safe at school. And that's not a statement. That's an indictment. It's an indictment on us,” he told other lawmakers.

During the 15-minute speech, Moskowitz spoke about his experience seeing the blood and bullets in the school. He described the funerals he attended. Then, he talked about his son.

“We signed him up for a writing class. That writing class was going on in Parkland on the afternoon of February 14 around the corner from Douglas. And that class was taught by Jen Guttenberg. You see, she lost her daughter Jaime while she was teaching my son how to write.”

Moskowitz described the speech as an out-of-body experience. But at this point–13 minutes into his speech. He paused and put both hands on his desk as his head sunk. A lawmaker next to him put his hand on Moskowitz’s back and stood to support him.

“She put my kid in the closet when her daughter died. I wanted to say thank you at the funeral. I didn't know how to do that.”

Moskowitz paused again, and through tears, made his final plea to other lawmakers to vote on the historic gun legislation.

“I hope that when I push the green button that will show all the appreciation that I need and that she needs. You don't need to stand with me. I don't need you to stand with me. I need you to stand with the families. Push the green button.”

'How the hell did that ever get accomplished?'

The bill did pass, just enough lawmakers hit that green button. Governor Rick Scott followed by signing the bill.

“It was such an important moment that quite frankly, when you look at Florida politics now you might think, how the hell did that ever get accomplished? How did Rick Scott sign this thing? But it took a collective of a number of individuals, Democrats and Republicans to put politics aside and try to prevent what happened in Parkland from happening in any other Florida school,” Moskowitz said.

"It was probably one of the best speeches I've ever heard Jared give on that floor," said Shevrin Jones, the lawmaker that put his hand on Moskowitz's back to support him.

The pair had been friends since they joined the state legislature in 2012. He also supported Moskowitz when he decided to leave the state legislature for a role in the Governor’s office in 2019.

“I said, man listen, obviously they see something in you. I said, as long as he's not asking you to do anything outside of your values then bro you should do it," Jones said.

DeSantis picked Moskowitz to lead the state’s department of emergency management. It was a job he was hesitant to take at first.

We've lost total sight of what public service is supposed to be. It's supposed to be about helping people and helping the country.
Jared Moskowitz

“I just thought about how government failed those families in Parkland. And here, a governor was going to give me an agency, a nonpartisan agency, an agency that helps people in their time of need helps people in their most vulnerable moments,” he said.

The job, in normal times, is mostly getting ready for and helping out after hurricanes. But 2020 was not a normal year.

The job was hectic and Moskowitz was often the only democrat in the room.

“In a lot of ways, it was politically enlightening and other ways it was frightening. But never at any point did anyone in the governor's office make me feel that just because we may disagree on a lot of things that somehow I was discounted, because I was a Democrat. And in fact, in a lot of respects, it was the opposite,” Moskowitz said.

He stood shoulder to shoulder with the republican governor at press conferences, sometimes thanking him for the help. He left the job in 2021, he said, to spend more time with his wife and two sons.

Shortly after he left the job in the governor's office, he was appointed to the Broward County Commission by Governor Desantis.

His relationship with the governor earned him some critics – especially from his own party. Still, voters picked Moskowitz out of six candidates overwhelmingly — by almost 60%.

A bittersweet victory

On August 23rd, Jared Moskowitz got 41 percent of the vote for the Democratic nomination for Florida’s 23rd congressional district, a seat long held by fellow democrat Ted Deutsch.

That same day he sent out a four-word tweet: "I miss my dad."

“I didn't have a celebration party. This is the first election that, you know, he's not with me. This was the thing we did together," he said.

Michael Moskowitz died from pancreatic cancer in 2021. He lived just long enough to see Jared sworn onto the Broward County commission. Jared actually asked for the ceremony to be moved up and moved to Parkland so his father could attend.

Broward County Mayor Michale Udine obliged.

“He has done so much for Broward County, for the charitable community, for the civic community, for the political community, for the business community. He has supported every nook and cranny of this county and that's why a testament to why there are so many people here today, supporting him,” said Udine, during the January 2022 ceremony.

In November's general election, Moskowitz is facing Republican Joe Budd. He is an entrepreneur and runs a Trump fan club in Palm Beach County. One of his priorities is making the U.S. energy independent.

The district includes most of Broward County and parts of Palm Beach County and for the last dozen years, Democrat Ted Deutsch held the seat. President Biden won the district by 17 points in 2020.

Leslie Ovalle Atkinson, lead producer of Sundial Now, helped with the digital portion of this story.

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Gerard Albert III is back in Broward, where he grew up, after reporting on crime and public safety in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and West Palm Beach. Albert is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University.