NBC 6 Investigators

Military Academy Candidate Earns Nomination after Rep. Hastings' Death

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A University of Miami student and ROTC member is on his way to West Point after NBC 6 Investigators reported on the tough spot similar candidates were in following the death of Rep. Alcee Hastings.

Each member of Congress gets to make ten nominations to the military academies from their local district. That was not possible for candidates like Justin Torres after Hastings passed away earlier this year.

Governor DeSantis set the special election for his replacement for January 11.

The deadline to apply to the military academies is January 31, but the interview and selection process happens months before that, according to military academy staff. 

For Torres, who graduated earlier this year from Cypress Bay High School and now attends the University of Miami, and many others like him, they had to compete for statewide slots from Florida senators or for national slots chosen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Statewide and national slots are chosen from a much larger pool of candidates the path is harder. 

Torres’s goal is to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and serve for at least five years afterward as a tank commander. His family, however, moved into Hastings’s district, Florida Congressional District 20, so he did not have a local member of Congress to nominate him. 

His fortunes changed when he was interviewed and nominated for one of the statewide slots by Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. 

“I was definitely in shock, having gone through the process last year and not having it work out,” said Torres. 

“When Congressman Hastings died, [Torres] was in a tough spot. There was no member of Congress in his area to nominate him, but he’s really qualified. We’re just grateful someone of his quality is willing to serve our country and it was our honor to be able to nominate him,” Senator Rubio told NBC 6. 

Justin’s family is ecstatic. 

“The whole family but especially my mom because she has really been the main one who’s helped me throughout this process. It wouldn’t be possible without her and just keeping me sort of sane as I’ve been navigating this process. She’s through the roof right now,” Torres said. 

Torres will leave for New York in June for training and start his military career at West Point. He is required to serve in the active duty military for five years afterward.

Delay and results 

When former Congressman Alcee Hastings passed away, Florida’s 20th Congressional District lost representation. That backed up many routine constituent services, including nominating candidates to the military academies.

Congressional District 20th stretches throughout Broward and Palm Beach counties. 

Members of Congress can nominate local students to four service academies: the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York. 

As a senior, Torres was nominated by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz but was disqualified for an eye medical issue. He began daily eye therapy and went to the University of Miami while waiting to try again. 

Wasserman Schultz was one of several local Democratic leaders and organizations upset at DeSantis’s date for setting the special election. Some claimed politics were in play because without someone representing the district, the narrow Democratic majority in Congress is smaller. 

“The fact that Gov. DeSantis didn’t care about the numerous challenges that he was creating by leaving the constituents of Florida’s 20th District unrepresented is mind-blowing,” Rep. Wasserman Schultz said.

When the governor announced the election date at a press conference, he said he wanted to give candidates seeking the seat time to prepare for a competitive race.

“I know as someone who ran for it before there’s a lot that goes into it,” DeSantis said. “So hopefully that gives them enough time to get on the ballot and do what they need to do to be competitive.”

The democratic primary was in November and Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick won by 5 votes.

Runner up, former Broward County Mayor Dale Holness has filed a lawsuit over the historically tight race.

Cherfilus-McCormick faces Republican Jason Mariner on January 11 but she is expected to win because there are far more democratic voters in the district. 

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