May 2003

Carl Calabrese -
Dynamic Deputy

by Joseph H. RADDER

Calabrese.jpg (7694 bytes)

One of the big reasons the County Executive’s office operates so smoothly and accomplishes so much is Joel Giambra’s dynamic deputy county executive, Carl Calabrese. His upbringing explains why.

Born on the west side of Buffalo, Carl and his family moved to the Town of Tonawanda when he was in first grade. “I have very fond memories of my childhood,” he told us, “...a very close family structure. My grandmother lived with us until she passed away at age 90. I had the benefit of having my grandmother, who was from Italy, in my home when I was growing up. She never learned to read and write in English. However, as a result, I could speak Italian at an early age. It was a wonderful experience, a memory I’ve never forgotten.”

Aunts, uncles and cousins visited every Sunday. “We lived the family values people talk about today. And there were a lot of good friends, many of whom are still close to me.”

Carl attended Thomas Edison elementary school in Tonawanda, then went on to Benjamin Franklin junior high school. He worked summers as a bus boy at the Park Country Club and when he turned eighteen became a cocktail waiter on the terrace. A number of other jobs followed during his school tenure. He graduated from Kenmore East in 1970. Next came two years at Erie Community College, followed by four years at UB where he earned a BS in political science. In May of this year he will receive his master’s degree in political science.

His first political job was a non-paid appointed position on the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library Board of Trustees while still a student at ECC. “I was appointed to that job by County Executive Ned Regan, as the youngest person appointed in the history of Erie County. And I ended up serving on that board for about nineteen years.”

This began Carl Calabrese’s political career. He ran in 1976, at age 23, for the state assembly and lost. He also lost a Town of Tonawanda school board election. “But,” he says, “you learn a lot from losing. If you run a good campaign, no loss is permanent. People remember you and while they might not vote for you for this particular position, a few years later they might see your qualities as a good match for another job.”

In 1985 he ran for the Town of Tonawanda board and ended up as the high vote-getter. In 1989 he won re-election. In 1993 he became Supervisor of the Town of Tonawanda and was re-elected twice with over 70% of the vote.

Should Joel Giambra ever decide to move on to higher office, perhaps at the state level, Carl would be ready, willing and able to step in where Giambra left off. If there’s one thing Carl Calabrese likes to talk about more than politics, it’s his family. His Dad, Carl Sr., was a plumber and passed away in 1999. His mother, Katherine is still alive and well at age 81. “My Dad was a very hard-working man”, he remembers. “He was a wise investor and eventually owned a lot of income-producing property which he maintained all by himself. He was the original ‘Mr. Fixit’!”

In 1976 Carl and Deborah Drollinger were married. They have three children. Bob is the oldest at age twenty-three, Chris is twenty and Melissa is sixteen.

One needs only to look around Carl Calabrese’s sixteenth floor office in the Rath County Office Building to know that he’s a very active person off the job as well. Trophies of his hunting expediitions fill the wall. He hunts with bow and arrow, shotgun and black powder musket. “I’m going wild boar hunting with my black powder musket early in April,” he says smiling. “And I’m hoping that void you see over there on the wall will have a big Russian wild boar hanging there soon.”

He’s also an avid Harley-Davidson motorcyclist and is very excited about the Harley-Davidson celebration in Buffalo this June called “The Ride Home”, a five city tour through the northeast. Carl is chairman of that event. We expect 15 to 20,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycle enthusiasts to be coming into Buffalo for a weekend at that time.” Carl is quick to point out that “motorcyclists today no longer fit the old stereotypes.We have doctors, lawyers, businessmen, electricians, deputy county executives, you name it, all riding Harleys. They’re a great bunch of people.”

He and Debbie have a cabin down in Wyoming County just a mile from the power-generating windmills you can see from some distance away. Debbie loves motorcycles as well and, weather-permitting, they take the bike to their country retreat.

Carl also exercises religiously and works out three times a week. “And I’m an avid reader,” he says, “especially history. It’s not unusual for me to have two books going at one time.”

His awards and honors are too numerous to mention but two he’s particularly proud of are the Red, White and Blue award from the American Legion and the God, Family and Country Award from the Italian-American Societies. He’s also very active in scouting and is proud to say that both of his sons were Eagle Scouts and his daughter received a silver award, one of the highest awards in Girl Scouts.

When it comes to the future he says “I don’t plan anything any more. If you do your job well and a position opens up in government or the private sector, options come to you.”

Our advice, dear reader, is keep your eye on Carl Calabrese. He’s going places.

Joseph H. Radder, a free-lance writer and regular contributor to Living Prime Time, is the author of a new book, a fictional biography of a young Jew named Jesus, “Young Jesus, the missing years.”


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