Charlottesville Tomorrow | February 18, 2020
Service is a calling for 5th Congressional District candidate Claire Russo.
It inspired her to join the U.S. Marine Corps and her work with counterinsurgency, but it’s also what inspires her run to represent Virginia’s geographically largest congressional district.
“I’ve spent the better part of my professional life fighting for this country or working for its future in some way, and I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines,” Russo said.
Gun safety, affordable health care and economic development are among some of Russo’s top priorities, should she be elected. On a February afternoon, she met with Charlottesville Tomorrow at her favorite hiking trail near Sugar Hollow in Albemarle County to ascend the terrain while talking about policy and personal matters.
Russo said she has a lot of personal ties to central Virginia. She grew up in Northern Virginia, but her father eventually settled into the Albemarle area. Russo and her husband, an area native, live near the boundary lines between Albemarle and Greene counties. Her sister also lives in the area.
“This has always kind of been our home — and being in the military ‘home’ is a different thing than for other folks,” Russo said.
The military lifestyle often comes with deployments and moving around, so she and her husband, an Army Special Forces officer, enjoy bringing their three children to the trail by Sugar Hollow when they can.
In settling in Virginia and keeping tabs on local concerns, Russo said something that is often on her mind is how she can represent localities federally. She also sees an intersection of environmental impact with workforce development.
“I’m excited about the idea of working on economic issues, and to work on revitalizing some industry that’s died or is dead, or renewing it in a new version,” Russo said. “There is so much potential for renewable energies here that have a promise of a long-term viability.”
Russo also said she is aware of the size and sprawl of concerns of the district she seeks to represent. The 5th Congressional District spans an area roughly the size of the state of New Jersey and touches borders with many other state districts.
“The diversity in the district is very clear — basically suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Danville; Albemarle; and Pittsylvania all are very different places,” Russo said. “Broadly, I feel like I talk about the same issues. People are worried about how to pay their bills, and infrastructure is critical to everyone.”
Russo also seeks to enhance rural broadband expansion, an issue that sometimes affects her as well as others in her district.
“There are times I can’t make a phone call from my home,” Russo said. “I see access to functional broadband being so critical to healthcare and people being informed and tied in.”
On gun safety, the matter is both personal and professional. Russo is in favor of gun safety legislation.
“My daughter worrying about the weapons my husband carries on the battlefield in her classroom? That’s pretty personal,” Russo said. “I’m really comfortable having conversations about guns and gun safety.”
On foreign policy, Russo says she understands the perspective of voters.
“I find myself talking a lot about foreign policy, but lately there’s been a lot going on, but I think it’s an issue a lot of voters in rural areas see as a bellwether to judge whether or not someone’s willing to fight for you and keep you safe,” Russo said. “In terms of myself and legislation I find myself qualified to make good decisions when issues of foreign policy come up.”
Russo ties her experience abroad back home.
“One of the most shocking realizations that I made working in Afghanistan. … I have a distinct memory of this question I would ask in these large groups of women, and rapidly I realized it was hard for the interpreters to translate it because ‘future’ for these women was like 24 hours, 48 hours,” she said. “‘Future’ is not the same for a rural farming family that has been negatively affected by Trump’s trade policy. ‘Future’ can be a few days or a few weeks away.”
After her time in the military, Russo served as a civilian adviser to the Army, where she was involved in the training and use of women engagement teams for special operation forces in Afghanistan.
“I built curriculum. I trained a team. I started focusing the employment of team, myself, and an interpreter in a particular valley on the Pakistan border that was particularly problematic,” Russo said. “I became sort of an expert on this because at the time it was a new thing and there weren’t that many people doing it.”
That work lead to her service on former General and Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus’s counter insurgency team. Russo also became a fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs where she also learned about the legislative process, something beneficial as she seeks to step into a new role.
Russo is a Democratic candidate to represent Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. The primary for the Democratic Party is June 9. This article is part of an ongoing series with other Democratic and Republican candidates.