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Ryan Rossi: From Graduate To Government

A current graduate student wants to begin his political career.

Ryan+Rossi+outside+of+the+FAU%27s+Student+Union.+Violet+Castano+%7C+Contributing+Photographer
Ryan Rossi outside of the FAU's Student Union. Violet Castano | Contributing Photographer

Ryan Rossi outside of the FAU's Student Union. Violet Castano | Contributing Photographer

Ryan Rossi outside of the FAU's Student Union. Violet Castano | Contributing Photographer

Thomas Chiles, Features Editor

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When Ryan Rossi graduated from FAU in December 2007, he knew he wanted to get involved in politics. What he didn’t know is that 10 years later he would be pursuing a master’s degree while beginning his campaign to represent District 89 at the Florida State House, the very district FAU is located in.

Rossi, 32, is a current graduate student scheduled to graduate this semester with a master’s in political studies. He filed as a Democrat in May of this year to represent Florida’s 89th state house district.

Until the election in November 2018, Rossi plans to campaign as much as possible to ensure his voice is heard.

“We are actively campaigning, we had a meet-and-greet, we’ve gone around and made some speeches,” Rossi said. “We are pretty much a full-fledged campaign at this point.”

FAU’s Influence

Although he was interested in politics when he initially started at FAU, some of Rossi’s classes and professors helped further influence his path toward politics.

“My junior year they had a class that they don’t offer anymore which was a mock legislature of the U.S. Congress,” Rossi said. “At that time, I was presented with an opportunity to be on the student court, which of course I accepted.”

Rossi said that one of his most influential professors was Robert Watson, Ph.D., who taught at FAU for over five years until 2007 before he left to work at Lynn University. During his time at FAU, Watson won Distinguished Professor of the Year in 2005 and the Faculty Service Award in 2006.

It’s been over a decade since he’s had him in class, but Watson still remembers Rossi very well from his political science class.

“Although professors are not supposed to say such things, I will state that he was one of my absolute favorite students,” Watson said.

In class, Watson said that Rossi was always at the front of the room and was a leader in all of the class debates and discussion. He would stay late after class to further discuss and debate the day’s lesson.

“[Rossi] had the admiration and respect of his peers in class and treated the other students with openness and support,” Watson said.

Watson’s nickname for him was “Kennedy,” because former President John F. Kennedy is one of Rossi’s heroes. So the professor wasn’t surprised when Rossi began his campaign for Florida’s House District 89 this year.

“I always knew that Ryan would run for public office someday,” Watson said. “He not only had a great grasp of political issues but exhibited a genuine enthusiasm for public service. This is apparent in how he has spent the years since graduating, devoting himself to the community.”

As an undergraduate student, Rossi was also involved with the College Democrats and Student Government’s Student Court. But when he received his bachelor’s degree in 2007, he realized how limited the political job market is for a 23-year-old graduate.

“When you are passionate about politics and you go to college, you think that’s something you really want to do,” Rossi said. “Then you realize when you graduate that your options are a lot less.”

The Real World

After graduation, Rossi received his real estate license and began working for his friend’s company in a marketing position. He said that his position was comfortable, but unfulfilling.

Ryan Rossi explains his campaign platform in detail. Violet Castano | Contributing Photographer

“I didn’t even consider going into teaching, which is something that political science majors usually do,” Rossi said.

He ended up back at the high school he graduated from, St. John Paul Academy, teaching government, economics, and psychology. Rossi was also involved with the high school’s Student Government and was the moderator of its council.

But still, Rossi had an itch for public service that he hadn’t satisfied. He knew he wanted to run for public office, but as a teacher, he didn’t have the time or money to launch any kind of campaign.

“The reality at the time was that the wages just weren’t high enough,” Rossi said. “But real estate kept itself in the picture and I never got rid of my license.”

Rossi jumped back into real estate and started his own business before joining a larger company, where he currently sells residential properties in Palm Beach County.

“So I transitioned from business, to education, and then back to business, but I’ve always kept an interest in politics throughout that time,” Rossi said. “It was something I was never able to fully separate myself from.”

Now, Rossi had the time and funds to truly begin his political path. But first he wanted his master’s in political science, which he began at FAU in January 2016. He’s scheduled to graduate this December.

Back to FAU

Rossi holds high praise for the political science graduate program’s classes and professors. One of Rossi’s current professors is also one of his favorites — Robert Rabil, Ph.D.

“He’s studious, his arguments are well, he knows his topics,” Rabil said of Rossi. “And he’s always had a lot of interest in this area. In the community he is active and also active on the social issues here in the area.”

Rabil, just like Watson, knew that Rossi would one day run for office. Although Rossi is seeking political office at such a young age, Rabil’s advice is that he must start somewhere.

“If not now, when?” Rabil said, quoting the famous Jewish leader Hillel the Elder. “Even if he doesn’t win now, it will prepare him for the next election in two years.”

Just weeks from graduating, Rossi finally feels ready for public office. His campaign has begun, and his political platform is built around local issues — one that includes the FAU campus itself.

One of Rossi’s main goals as the representative of District 89 would be to try to get more funding for research at FAU.

“It certainly would be my personal goal to work as hard as I can to make sure FAU has what it needs, within the scope of reason,” Rossi said. “To continue becoming one of the up-and-coming successful universities in the state is important to me.”

Compared to older, more established state universities like UF and FSU, FAU doesn’t receive as many research funds from the state.

“From the position of the state legislature you’re kind of limited with the scope of what you can do,” Rossi admits. “I’ve been incredibly impressed by [FAU’s] research and development and so I would hope they would continue to have the funding they need. We want to make sure FAU is moving in that direction and that the state is aware of the progress FAU is making.”

Rossi’s Campaign Platform

If he wins the election, Rossi has chosen to focus on three issues affecting the district: public education, the environment, and the opioid crisis.

House Bill 7069 was signed in the most recent state house session, which Rossi says essentially takes funding from public schools and puts it into charter schools, which receive government funding but operate outside of the state school system.

“I definitely think introducing a fairer education bill that keeps funding in public schools is something that I want to talk about pretty immediately,” Rossi said.

As a former teacher, Rossi said he values public education system funding.

“Not every kid can afford to go to a private school,” Rossi said. “So when it comes to investing in public education you want to be sure that every kid is afforded equal opportunity, that teachers are paid adequately for their services, and that we are focusing on things like critical thinking.”

The second issue Rossi hopes to positively affect is the local environment and addressing issues like storm surge, beach erosion, and saltwater intrusion.

“It’s troubling to me that there are people in the state, opposite of me party-wise, who don’t even want to acknowledge the words climate change when it’s such a real issue,” Rossi said. “If you live in this district, you definitely know it’s real.”

Rossi believes that one reason it’s important to elect younger people into political office is because they have a stronger understanding of the impact of climate change.

“When sea levels are rising at the rate that they are, that’s something that has to be acknowledged,” Rossi said. “We need to start working across the aisles to invest in the right infrastructures here locally.”

Rossi’s final local issue to address is the opioid crisis, which has now become an area of national concern.

“We are dealing with people that are dying at an unprecedented rate, it’s a national crisis and emergency,” Rossi said. “We are at Ground Zero here in Palm Beach County.”

Rossi praised daily newspaper The Palm Beach Post for its extensive coverage of the opioid crisis and drug arrests in the area.

“We need to start engaging with the community on public safety and how to reintegrate people who are suffering from addiction and figure out what the next role should be for them in the community,” said Rossi.

Rossi’s only current competition in the Democratic primary election is Jim Bonofiglio, the current vice mayor of Ocean Ridge, located near Boynton Beach.

Only one candidate is running on the Republican ticket, Matt Spritz.

But as far as his own election fate, Rossi is hopeful.

“I feel pretty confident because I think that right now at least from what I hear, it’s time for younger people to start taking the mantle of leadership and becoming more active,” Rossi said. “With everything that’s happening in the country right now, I think that younger people are the key to correcting many of the problems that we face.”

Thomas Chiles is the features editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email tchiles2013@fau.edu or tweet him @thomas_iv.

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