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Rossi makes late swing through area in primary contest for lieutenant governor

South Boston News
Rossi / June 12, 2017
Gene Rossi, one of three Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor, made a late swing through South Boston Thursday in the run-up to the primary vote tomorrow for both Democratic and Republican statewide candidates.

Rossi, a former federal prosecutor who resides in Alexandria, is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for the state’s second-highest office in the Nov. 7 general election. Voting in Tuesday's primary begins at 6 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m.

Other Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor are Justin Fairfax, who like Rossi is a former federal prosecutor, and Susan Platt, a former chief of staff to Vice-President Joe Biden and lobbyist. All three Democratic candidates are from northern Virginia.

On the Republican side, two state senators — Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania and Jill Holtzman Vogel of Fauquier — and state delegate Glenn Davis of Virginia Beach are seeking the party’s nomination for the fall general election.

Rossi’s visit in South Boston was part of what he called “a loop across the state” as candidates on all sides kept up frenetic schedules with the primary race drawing to a close.

Rossi, an assistant U.S. Attorney for 27 years, led “Operation Cotton Candy,” described as the largest-ever federal investigation to prosecute opioid distribution crimes. The investigation resulted in more than 200 convictions of doctors, pharmacists and other medical professions who illegally dispensed pain relief pills. Among those convicted was a McLean doctor, William Hurwitz, who had three patients die of overdoses and once issued a prescription for 1,200 pain pills per day. The federal investigation and Rossi’s role were chronicled in a Hollywood documentary, “Dr. Feelgood,” by filmmaker Eve Marson.

Praised by fellow prosecutors for his sense of fairness, Rossi says he has no qualms about seeking long sentences for drug dealers, including medical professionals who are motivated by greed. But he also says his work to combat the opioid epidemic has changed how he has come to view people who are addicted to drugs.

Along with his prosecutorial duties, Rossi has worked with the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia drug court — an alternative to traditional prosecution of nonviolent drug offenders.

“Twenty years ago, I didn’t blink an eye when someone was sentenced to 10 or 20 years,” he told The Washington Post in a 2016 interview. “Now I think: Is our society better off?”

In a visit to the News & Record office on Thursday, Rossi said his campaign pitch is the same wherever he goes: “Voters appreciate honesty and I don’t change my message. It’s the same for everyone.”

He reflected on his childhood, noting that his family ran a small lumber business in Connecticut that his father started in 1925 with a team of horses, a flatbed truck and a portable sawmill. He proudly shows off his paycheck of $1.92 for his first day’s work — making 25 cents an hour.

His father died suddenly when Rossi was ten years old, leaving him, his three brothers and mother to run the business. He said he drove trucks, wrote paychecks and did everything else to keep the business in operation. “So I know about running a small business,” he said.

Today, he advocates for a $15 minimum wage in Virginia by 2023, and he supports the Affordable Care Act and expansion of the Medicaid program to cover the state’s working poor.

Rossi’s travels last week took him from the eastern portion of Virginia to South Boston and then to Danville later Thursday. He planned to continue his campaign in western Virginia.

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