Monday, January 12, 2009

An interview with the new LPC national director, Rocco Rossi

As part of the Liberal leadership transition, Rocco Rossi was recently announced as the incoming national director of the Liberal Party. Perhaps the biggest thing that stands out on his CV is his experience as a fundraiser, leading Ontario's Heart and Stroke Foundation, with fundraising sure to be a major preoccupation for Rossi and the party going forward.

I asked Rossi to share some of his background and experience and his plans to reinvigorate the Liberal Party, and he graciously agreed. He's not officially on the job yet -- he's still wrapping things up at the Heart and Stroke Foundation -- so he wasn't able to get too deep into specifics obviously, but here's what he had to say.

BCer: Could you talk a little about your background and experience in Liberal politics?

Rossi: I first became involved in politics in elementary school in Toronto when I helped one of my teachers, Andrew Meles, run as a Liberal provincially against Dennis Timbrell in Don Mills (lambs to the slaughter in those days;-), but certainly gave me the bug.

I later became Youth Chair in the Federal riding of York East where David Collenette was our member. I was involved there for many years in different capacities and remain a friend of David and Penny to this day.

David introduced me to Senator Keith Davey who then became a friend and mentor. He then asked me to help Dennis Mills in 1988 when I was co-manager and policy chair for his campaign in Broadview-Greenwood that unseated an NDP incumbent. I subsequently became riding President.

I have knocked on doors, dropped flyers, pounded in signs for lots of other federal and provincial candidates over the years from Charles Caccia to Maurizio Bevilacqua to Ben Chin and Michael Ignatieff.

In terms of other political experience, I was campaign manager for John Tory in his run for Mayor of Toronto in 2003 and helped lead a tremendous team of Liberals (Warren Kinsella, Bob Richardson, Ferd Longo, Larry Archer, Premier David Peterson, Hershell Ezrin to name a few) and Tories that grew his support from 4% to 38% and came close to winning, but finished second in a strong field.

BCer: How do you feel your experience with the Heart and Stroke Foundation will help you in this new role?

Rossi: I left the private sector several years ago so that I could devote the balance of my life to making a real difference through public service.(I wrote a piece in the Globe several years ago that goes into greater depth on my thought process. You can read it at:

The last four years at the Heart and Stroke Foundation have been hugely rewarding in terms of the impact we have been able to make.

BCer: Why are you deciding to take on this challenge now?

Rossi: The decision to accept the position of National Director of the Liberal Party is driven by the belief that this is a way for me to have an even bigger impact. The country is in an unprecedented economic crisis and the electorate have not been thrilled with what any of the parties, including us, have been presenting over the last few elections. A strong Liberal Party is critical and I would like to help in whatever way I can.

I am honoured that Michael and the party have given me this opportunity and I look forward to working with all interested and committed Liberals to build the strongest party possible, and help provide all Canadians with a political party that will reignite the imagination and passion and plain good sense that our political process has been lacking from their perspective for some time now. No one person can accomplish that. It will take a revitalized party with a growing and passionate membership that truly feels membership matters.

BCer: In terms of more specifics around his thoughts on fundraising and building the party in general, Rossi pointed me to an interview he recently did with CP's Joan Bryden. Here's an excerpt from the resulting article:

The party's dire financial straits don't seem to daunt Rossi, a lifelong Liberal.

"I certainly enjoy big challenges," he cheerfully told The Canadian Press.

Rossi said the key to turning around the party's dismal fundraising effort will be re-engaging and re-energizing its dwindling membership base.

"The only way you build a large fundraising pool of smaller donations is to have people who have a stake in (an organization) whether it's a charity or a political party," he said.

"That means re-energizing and building out a membership base, not just for nomination battles and not just for elections, but year-round and on a continuous basis, making membership mean something."

Among other things, Rossi said Liberal members have to be made to feel that their participation is valued, their contribution celebrated.

Rossi said it's too soon to say precisely how he intends to go about expanding the membership and raising money. But his experience at the Heart and Stroke Foundation suggests the party's financial situation can be turned around relatively quickly.

During Rossi's four years at the helm, the foundation more than doubled its volunteer base to about 40,000. And it raked in record revenues of over $120 million last year, up from $92 million when Rossi started the job.

The foundation's success may partly be due to Rossi's willingness to volunteer his own time - to "walk the talk," as he put it - and his ability to dream up fresh, fun ways to raise money. But it's also a matter of attitude, Rossi said.

"I don't look at it as asking for money. I look at it as giving people an opportunity to participate in something bigger than themselves. I am doing them the favour, they're not doing me the favour and that gives you a much different mindset," he said.

"People want to be part of something bigger than themselves, they want to be part of making a difference."

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Steve V said...

Good stuff Jeff.

The Pontificator said...

Good stuff Rocco, surely.

Lolly said...

this sounds like the Heart and soul of the Liberal Party is on the road to recovery.