Gene Rossi’s not through with politics, and he’s angry. Sitting in St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub on an early recent morning in Del Ray, the prosecutor was full of energy and emotion. What’s the focus of his frustration? Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who are both resisting calls for resignation in the wake of scandals that have gained national attention.
Rossi, who lost the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 2017 to Fairfax, has changed his tune against an opponent he used to call his friend, a man he trained as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
But now with Fairfax denying allegations of sexual assault and rape and Northam backtracking initial statements that he appeared in a racist photo in his medical school yearbook, Rossi is not holding back. He’s likened Northam, Fairfax and Attorney Gen. Mark Herring to the Three Stooges, and says that Herring should be made governor and that his superiors should resign.
“I am very mad and I’m not alone, and a lot of Democrats are holding their tongues,” Rossi told The Zebra. “I’m tired of holding my tongue. I am angry, I am upset and I am disturbed. We look like hypocrites. We made Brett Kavanaugh go through hell. I opposed him and we made him go through hell and now we’re giving our candidates a pass.”
Rossi, a former federal prosecutor for 30 years, came in third in the 2017 primary against Fairfax and Susan Platt, and received 60,000 votes, or about 11 percent of votes cast. Since leaving office he has launched The Gene Rossi Show, a podcast that is broadcast every Saturday on WJFN in Richmond, and by day works as an attorney at D.C. law firm Carlton Fields.
In his most recent show, which was aired on Feb. 23, there was little doubt as to how Rossi is thinking. The show opened to “Saturday Night Fever,” and Rossi said that back in the day he was known to dress up like John Travolta and go to discos and dance to the music.
“Do you know how many times I danced to ‘Disco Inferno’?” Rossi said. “I’m gonna find a picture. Hey, hey. It’ll be a nice picture. It won’t be like the ones we’ve been talking about in Virginia politics… That picture’s so good it might get me elected Governor of Virginia.”
Now Rossi, who has lived in Alexandria with his family since 1989, says that he is seriously considering another run – possibly for one of the two top positions in the Commonwealth.
Zebra: What do you think about what’s going on with the governor, the lieutenant governor and the attorney general?
Rossi: I am very sad, if not angry and here’s why. Outside of Virginia most people consider the three statewide leaders to be a national embarrassment, and some people call them ‘The Three Stooges’ – Larry, Moe and Curly, and I gotta tell you this: I don’t necessarily disagree with them. I am ashamed that our state is now being run by three individuals, mostly the governor and lieutenant governor, who are not respected in the state and are definitely not respected nationwide. And I have called for Ralph Northam and Justin Fairfax to resign, and reason is I don’t think they have the ability to lead this state. And I am joined in my comments and my request for a resignation by many people, including former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the Legislative Black Caucus in Virginia, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th), Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10th), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) and hundreds more… I am not alone and I wish they would resign today, but it’s not going to happen because they are clinging to power, they don’t want to leave their positions of power and that really bothers me because they’re not thinking about what’s best for the state.
Zebra: What about Attorney General Mark Herring?
Rossi: He’s a prime example of people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. He also looks like a buffoon. He’s Curly. And all three of them are embarrassing the state and it just breaks my heart because I worked my tail off in 2017 after I got beat by Justin to get as many Democrats elected statewide locally and in Congress. And I gotta tell you, if I’m a Republican strategist I am in heaven right now and I would pray that the lieutenant governor and the governor do not resign.
Zebra: You think it will turn the tide in the governor’s office in the next election?
Rossi: In September, October and November, their campaign literature will have photos of Justin and photos of Ralph, and below Justin’s photo will be the statements of Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, both of whom I believe. And below Ralph will be the photo that he initially said that he was in. I am very mad and I’m not alone, and a lot of Democrats are holding their tongues. I’m tired of holding my tongue. I am angry, I am upset and I am disturbed. We look like hypocrites. We made Brett Kavanaugh go through hell. I opposed him and we made him go through hell and now we’re giving our candidates a pass.
On Sunday, the lieutenant governor of Virginia gave a speech to the Senate and he compared himself figuratively to a political lynching. About two weeks ago, his chief of staff figuratively made the comparison in a Facebook post, and his staff has been making that comparison ever since. It’s shameful.
Zebra: Justice Kavanaugh was also criticized for being too aggressive during his testimony before the Senate. Now, you’re a litigator. What’s appropriate behavior when you’ve been accused?
Rossi: You can maintain your innocence strongly and with dignity and he [Fairfax] did not do that with dignity. What you should not do is on Feb. 4 imply that the person, Dr. Tyson, who’s alleging something is a pathological liar and prevaricator, and that’s what he essentially implied. That’s what he did on Monday, Feb. 4, and then, by Wednesday, Feb. 6, we had Meredith Watson come out, and he also made comments that the allegations were total lies. He can maintain his innocence, he has the presumption of innocence, but his comments implied that the people who were coming out to accuse him had political motives, were liars and should be discredited. He pulled the same playbook that Brett Kavanaugh did.
Zebra: He’s also your former political opponent. When was the last time you spoke with him?
Rossi: On Sunday, Feb. 3, I thought that Justin Fairfax would be the next governor of Virginia. I sent him a text message of support that day and got a response. Now from 2010 to 2012, in the in two years he was an assistant U.S. Attorney, I trained him, I mentored him and I supervised him. We tried two cases together. I was his coach in both trials. I was his friend. … I was his right hand man, so I’m pretty close with Justin, and after he kicked my behind, in Oct. 2017, I held his biggest fundraiser at the Port City Brew Company.
But on February 4, 5 and 6, all hell broke loose and we had two serious allegations by African American women who have no motive to lie. I gotta repeat that. They have no motive to lie, and one of them alleges premeditated rape. I’m loyal to my party, but only to a certain extent. That’s a bridge too far for me and that’s why I asked for Justin to resign. He can fight the charges in court during an investigation, but he doesn’t have the ability to lead our state any more. The world is laughing at him, not forgetting Ralph and his moonwalk press conference. They look like buffoons, and I’m so upset about it.
Zebra: And if they don’t leave office? What’s to be done?
Rossi: All I can do is pray. Now, Herring, let him stay, but I still lost a lot of respect for him because he called for the governor to resign when he had skeletons in his own closet. That really bothers me. And Democrats are dancing around this. Democrats are in complete denial. The House and the Senate are in play this November, and the Republican theme is going to be simple: “We have results, we have integrity, we need to change,” and that will be a powerful, but simple message. We’re within a whisper of taking the Senate and the House, and that’s in serious jeopardy right now.
Zebra: And what about you? Are you thinking about running again?
Rossi: I have a lot of miles to go before I sleep and I am not done. I have a political future. I have too much to give this state and too much passion and energy to avoid addressing the public issues that face not only Virginia, but the United States. And I got knocked down, but I got back up and I’m going back into the arena. I don’t know when, but it will happen. I’m thinking about running for lieutenant governor. I’m even thinking about running for governor. I am thinking about it and have been approached by a lot of people.
It’s hard because I work in a big law firm in D.C. – Carlton Fields. We’ve got to pay the bills they gotta pay for the electricity, the rent, staff and I gotta bring in business and there is that tension between my desire for public service and to engage in public policy discussions and my need to put food on the table.
Zebra: Former Virginia Congressman Jim Moran said that redemption is a powerful political motivator, and that Northam should be allowed to redeem himself.
Rossi: Listen, it wasn’t just the blackface. It was someone in blackface next to someone dressed like a Klansman. Then he admitted to it, but did he know this was out there when he was running for office? And then his explanation at the Moonwalk press conference. He looked so embarrassing and somewhat insensitive and he came within an instant from doing a Moonwalk in front of the national press corps before his wife stopped him.
Zebra: So how should it work out? You think that Northam and Fairfax should resign and Herring should be governor?
Rossi: Do I think he’s the perfect choice? No. He’s Curly. I think Moe and Larry should go. I think people were hoping they both would leave, and they now realize they’re not going, they are clinging to their positions of power and they’re not going to leave. And I think people now realize that and are slowly becoming more expressive of that disappointment and anger.
I have held back for three weeks. I’m just tired of it. And I gotta say the thing that caused me to cross the Rubicon was Justin Fairfax’s speech on Sunday figuratively comparing himself to political lynchings and Jim Crow. That was disgraceful. And Ralph Northam can do his reconciliation tour and God bless him, but let him do his tour as a private citizen, not as my governor.