Joe Abruzzo’s Chicago roots led the way to Palm Beach County

You may know Joseph “Joe” Abruzzo as the current Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller of Palm Beach County, who served in the Florida Legislature for a decade. The lesser-known story about Abruzzo is how his Chicago roots prepared him to be a leader and public servant in Palm Beach County.

When Joe Abruzzo shares memories of his childhood growing up in Chicago, you feel transported back to when close-knit families and communities were the norm.

Abruzzo grew up in a traditional Italian family surrounded by grandparents and great-grandparents. The talk around the dinner table with his great grandfather, Jerome Cataldo, President of the Barbers and Beauticians Union and a Special Representative to the United Food and Commercials Workers, was never short on stories and lessons about politics. While most young people only do their learning in school, Abruzzo received a second education at the dinner table.

Joe Abruzzo
Joe Abruzzo’s grandfather Bud Catalado with Field of Dreams players

Patrick Daley, the son of Richard Daley, who was Chicago’s Mayor through the 1990s and early 2000s, has been a lifelong friend. Abruzzo shared that the Daley family primarily influenced his political education in Chicago. When Abuzzo moved to Florida from Chicago in 1999 to attend college, he considered himself a Daley Democrat, which he says is far different than how the Democratic Party is evolving today.

Abruzzo’s parents named him after one of his grandfathers, a career-long Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy in Illinois, one of many men in his family who served in law enforcement.

Abruzzo’s initial intention upon moving to Florida to attend Lynn University was to play baseball. Even then, public service never strayed far from his mind. He joined Lynn’s Student Government as soon as he arrived on campus and was ultimately elected Lynn’s first Junior Student Body President.

Joe Abruzzo
Joe Abruzzo with with condo leaders Marvin Manning, Elmer Klein, Mike Limongelli and Stanley Siegel

He took to his new leadership role very quickly and spent his time at Lynn attending to his fellow students and getting out in the community. While at Lynn, 9/11 happened, and Abruzzo took it personally and wanted to join the military right then and there.

Abruzzo remembers when he called his mother and told her he wanted to join the military and put his education on pause so he could serve his country. He would come back and finish school after serving. Though Abruzzo tried to sell her on the idea, he agreed that he would enlist upon graduation, and only then would his mother give her blessing. Abruzzo served in the Coast Guard Reserves as a Port Security Specialist from 2005 to 2013.

Though he accomplished many commendable things while serving in the Florida Legislature, Abruzzo is most proud of his son, who he is raising as a single dad. His son now drives everything Abruzzo does as he thinks about his son’s future.

Joe Abruzzo
Joe Abruzzo with his father, Peter Abruzzo and son Joseph II

When asked what the essential quality he learned from his family was, Joe replied with one word – honesty. “I hope that those I worked with and those I had to interact with, both constituents and other elected officials, say ‘hey, you know, Joe shot straight with me,’” says Abruzzo.

And now, Abruzzo hopes to instill the same values that have served him well in his 7-year-old son. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, his son replied that he wants to be a deal maker and a negotiator. “Yeah, he knows he’s going to go to law school after college, just like he had to go to kindergarten,” laughs Abruzzo

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