Election 2024

Out candidate Chad Klitzman says Bridget Ziegler’s story is too outlandish for Hollywood

Chad Klitzman
Chad Klitzman Photo: Chad Klitzman for State Senate

30-year-old Chad Klitzman, running to represent south Broward County in Florida’s Senate, will be the youngest member of that body if elected.

A win for the former Obama White House staffer, Columbia Law graduate, and sometime screenwriter (he’s got a Netflix movie to his name) would also double LGBTQ+ representation in the Florida Legislature, which remarkably counts only one gay member among its ranks in either chamber.

Sitting Sen. Shevrin Jones (D) of southern Broward County is currently an LGBTQ+ caucus of one.

In 2020, at the height of the COVID pandemic, Klitzman, then just 25, dove into politics with a race for Elections Supervisor in Broward Co., losing by a razor-thin margin but avoiding the assault on voting rights that came with Donald Trump’s loss at the polls and a blizzard of anti-democratic legislation from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee lawmakers.

But Klitzman won the vote in the area that he’s now running hard to represent.

LGBTQ Nation: Where did I find you today?

Chad Klitzman: I’m sweating in the Florida sun, knocking on doors in a retirement community in the district.

You’re an acknowledged politics nerd, and you have been since before you could vote. You served as president of Kids Voting Broward, and as a student ambassador to the Broward League of Cities. What shaped your interest in politics?

My first memory is probably being like in second grade with some local politicians coming in to speak to my elementary school. Also, I sang at Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s swearing-in with my 5th grade drama workshop (laughing).

Then when I was in 10th grade, I had an internship up in Washington, D.C. on the Hill, and I was able to just kind of roam the halls of the Capitol and found myself in the committee hearing where they were writing the Affordable Care Act. And that was a pretty formative experience for me. I got hooked, and I’ve been involved in politics ever since.

Where were you when you learned about Trump getting convicted on all 34 counts of his hush money trial, and what was your first thought?

I was at home raising money on the phone, and my first thought was the process worked.

While you were in college, you served in the Obama administration in various capacities, including as part of the White House visitor’s office doing event planning. What was the biggest event you worked on, and what was the most memorable behind-the-scenes screw-up that you witnessed?

Thankfully, there wasn’t a long list. There’s really no room for error when you’re putting together events for the president and the first lady.

I think the most memorable thing was working on White House Halloween, which is an event that doesn’t get a lot of attention nationally, but it’s a big deal in D.C. The Department of Education brings in hundreds, if not thousands, of students from the area to come trick-or-treat at the White House. It’s always logistically complicated to get people in and out of the White House, but now everyone’s in full costume and you have to get them in and out of the White House.

In the course of my time at there, we helped shepherd in a quarter of a million people, huge numbers. It became far more democratic and that was something that the president and first lady really wanted to stay true to. That has not always been the case in every administration. Certainly, it became a lot less true in the four years following the Obama administration.

In college, you were also a participant in the Department of Transportation Summer Transportation Internship Program for Diverse Groups. What diverse group did you fall into?

(Laughing) It’s not like they asked about sexuality, but if this counts as a group, I’ve been an aviation nerd my entire life, and so to be able to combine my interest in politics and in transportation and in aviation all into one was awesome.

I was at the FAA in the aviation safety unit, and most incidents you never hear about, because they’re not fatal, but some of them are kind of funny. Like, some guy in some state decides he wants to go get a gallon of milk, so he takes his airplane and he lands in the parking lot of the convenience store. But there were also incidents like the Malaysia flight, which went missing, which CNN talked about for months. So it was a really interesting summer.

As you say, you’re an aviation geek, and you’re also a proud travel points enthusiast. What’s the itinerary you’re most proud of?

(Laughing) I appreciate the question. Probably the coolest thing I’ve done is, back in 2017 they retired the 747 and did a retirement flight, recreating the very first 747 flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. I immediately bought a ticket — the flight sold out within about five minutes.

So they did everything as if it was the 1970s. They gave us fake cigarettes. Flight attendants were all dressed like they would have been dressed in the 70s. They did the in-flight meals just like they would have been in the 70s. Even the entertainment was, you know, stuff from the 70s.

We even did a low flyover of the Golden Gate Bridge, which they didn’t tell us we were going to do, which is like quite an experience to do in a commercial aircraft like the 747. They couldn’t get people to sit down, people were just so amped up.

Have you ever run into Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on one of your flights, and if you did, what would you say to him?

I have not. I’d say, “You’re doing a great job. Keep it up!”

When did you come out?

When I was 21.

Were you out in the Obama White House?

I was not. However, it’s funny, through three consecutive experiences in government, I actually had three openly LGBTQ+ bosses, like, without me looking for it, which I thought was kind of like an interesting sign from the universe, and certainly very helpful in my own journey to coming out.

Are you seeing anyone now?

I’m not.

Are you looking?

Sure (laughing).

You earned your law degree at Columbia. What was the best thing about law school and what was the worst?

The best thing about law school was I was actually able to get credit for work that I did in both television writing and playwriting, to the extent there was a social justice tie-in to the work that I was doing. Their flexibility on that front was something that I never expected and was definitely appreciated.

Post-law school, studying for the bar is definitely not a fun experience, kind of like the worst six weeks to two months of your life.

How would you pitch the melodrama that is the Bridget Ziegler story?

It’s the kind of thing that if you pitched it, Hollywood executives might not believe you. You can have people suspend the disbelief, whatever, but sometimes you really just can’t make this stuff up. And in Florida politics, you know, whether it’s Bridget Ziegler or others — I’ll tell stories to folks and they honestly can’t believe me. It’s crazier than what you’d see in a movie. But that’s not a movie that I have any interest in participating in.

What’s the best line from that movie?

(Laughing) I’m gonna pass.

What’s the single most important thing the world should do to address climate change?

Improve our electric vehicle infrastructure.

On a scale of 1-10, how much good would compulsory national service in the military or the Peace Corps or public service be for America’s youth and the country.

The answer is 10. That would really go a long way in shaping the way people think about our country. I don’t know if I would necessarily want to make it compulsory, but I think that would be very impactful and a powerful thing.

In what now looks like a prescient decision for an ambitious pol, in 2020 you ran for Supervisor of Elections in Broward County and lost by a razor-thin margin. What inspired you to run for the job?

I firmly believe that when we vote, it’s critical that we feel confident that our vote counts. I felt like I was in a position to do something about it. The seat was open, and so I jumped in. I was a 25-year-old unknown running countywide, in a place that’s bigger than 13 states. During COVID, I lost that race by 0.03% without ever leaving my house, and I won the district I’m running for now by a few points. So we think that sets me up pretty well for the race I’m in now.

Had you won that Supervisor of Elections race, you would have been in the thick of Stop the Steal election madness. Did you ever accuse Republicans or the deep state of rigging your election? And if not, why not?

We have some of the securest elections in the country, which makes it all the more ironic that DeSantis and other Republicans in the legislature have wanted to do things to make it more difficult for people to vote by mail and just participate in the process. Most of the supervisors I met across the state, including Republicans, care deeply about the work they do, and they’ve been opposed to most of the changes that have been enacted the last few years, because it only fuels a narrative that there’s something to not trust about the process. I do trust the process and it’s a shame that Republicans in the legislature don’t trust even Republican supervisors of elections in their home counties.

Florida has a large, reliably Democratic Jewish population, and you serve on the board of the Broward County Democratic Party Jewish Caucus. Has that group weighed in on the war in Gaza, and how would you characterize discussion around the issue?

Obviously, we’re proud to stand with Israel. I don’t think anybody supports loss of life in the region, but at the end of the day, Hamas is a terrorist organization. Its sole purpose is to eradicate Israel from the face of the Earth. I’m all for a two-state solution, but one of those states cannot be Hamas-controlled. Speaking for myself, I’m proud to stand with Israel, but that does not mean I always stand with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.

We haven’t heard a lot about protests at Florida colleges and universities like we’ve seen at other schools around the country. What do you attribute that to? Is DeSantis stifling free speech, or is there just greater support for Israel in Florida compared to other states?

I think it’s a combination of the student bodies at the schools in Florida, and the way the administrations have handled it in Florida versus elsewhere. At the University of Florida, they let people go out and protest, right? They were just doing it in an orderly manner. They weren’t halting university life.

We shouldn’t have situations like you had at Columbia where Jewish students were being told that it wasn’t safe for them to go to class. That’s unacceptable.

What is the greater threat to democracy? Texas Rep. Jasmine Crockett’s eyelashes, or Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s lats?

Any piece of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s body is a greater threat. The biggest threat is her mouth.

Who is the greater threat to Florida nightlife? Fired Florida GOP chair Christian Ziegler or Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz?

Well, from what I understand, Matt Gaetz keeps a lot of the nightlife going in Florida, so I’d go with Ziegler.

As a politically astute screenwriter, how would you advise President Biden to pitch his candidacy at the debate later this month with Donald Trump?

One thing that Republicans have always been better at than Democrats — even if the messaging is kind of BS — is giving people something they can easily digest. So whatever he can do to make it short and sweet, I think would be very helpful in offering up a thesis, if you will, for his candidacy.

Name three things you’d like to be celebrating at Pride next year.

The reelection of Joe Biden to the White House. I would also love to see the Equality Act signed into law. And we take over the House. I’d love to be in a relationship myself at that point, too.

Aren’t you forgetting one thing?

Oh, well, you mean me being a state senator? Hopefully, hopefully. The fact I didn’t go to that answer kind of speaks to why I’m in this fight, right? I’m literally speaking to you as I’m out here knocking on doors. It really is about the work. And given everything that’s been going on, the targeted attacks on LGBTQ+ youth, especially members of the trans community, I just would love to be up there in Tallahassee. Even if I can’t get stuff undone, at least I could be an advocate and someone that folks can turn to when there are issues. Certainly, having more representation in Tallahassee helps with that.

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