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Candidate seeks to unseat 20-year representative

4/7/2012

By GORDON JACKSON
The Brunswick News

Nathan Russo knows it will be difficult to unseat U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston from the District 1 Congressional seat he has held the past 20 years.

Kingston, the popular Republican from Savannah, has defeated every challenger since he was first elected to Congress in 1992. Russo, a St. Simons Island Democrat, has never run for public office and admits he set his sights high for his first political campaign.

"I'm 68 years old and have never held public office before," he said. "Some people have asked why I don't do something like run for county commissioner, but I'm too old to start at the bottom."

Russo also faces another potential obstacle in his bid for office -- a misdemeanor arrest during a prostitution sting on Nov. 16, 2006 at a Springdale, S.C. motel. Russo said he decided to reveal details of the arrest now, rather than risk having the information come out a few days before the November elections.

According to an incident report obtained by the Springdale, S.C. Police Department, Russo was arrested after he objected to tactics used by officers during the sting at a Travelers Inn in town.

After Russo witnessed the arrest of a man for soliciting a prostitute, police said he expressed his objection to the tactics used by investigators and uttered a profanity in protest. After he checked in, police said Russo began going from room to room warning occupants the police were at the motel and to "be careful."

He told one officer that the sting was "entrapment," the report said. Russo was warned by an officer to remain quiet, but was arrested after he later told another motel guest to be careful.

He was released two days later after paying a $1,062.50 fine for disorderly conduct and another $1,112.50 fine for interfering with police.

Springfield Police Chief Kevin Cornett said the case was resolved when Russo chose to forfeit his bond rather than contest the charges in court.

Russo gives a slightly different version of the events leading to his arrest more than five years ago.

Russo said he was traveling to Kentucky to visit his mother when he stopped at a motel for the night. As he was walking from the parking lot to the lobby, Russo said he approached two women and asked them if the rooms were clean -- a question he said he always asks guests before he checks into a motel he is unfamiliar with.

When he went into the lobby, Russo said the front desk clerk warned him to stay away from the women he had just talked with because they might be undercover police officers involved in a prostitution sting.

While walking to his room, Russo said he saw officers wrestle a man to the ground and handcuff him. Russo said he told an officer that he believed it is unethical for police to entrap people into committing a crime. The officer warned him not to talk to anyone about what was going on or he would be arrested, he said.

When he returned to his car for the rest of his luggage, Russo said he saw a man peeking in the window of a nearby room. After the man told him he was checking to see if his boss had returned from dinner, Russo said he told the man the police might be nearby and to be careful.

Russo said he was confronted by another group of men who asked why he was asking so many questions. When the men told him to accompany them, Russo said he refused because they never identified themselves as law enforcement officers.

He said he struggled as the men dragged him into a room. It wasn't until he was inside that the men said their were police officers.

He said he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer. He was held for nearly two days at the Lexington County Detention Facility until he paid a $2,125 fine. He had the option of contesting the misdemeanor charges in court, but said he just wanted the ordeal to end.

"I had to plead guilty because I never wanted to come back to that place," he said.

Despite the arrest, Russo, former owner of a public records abstract and appraisal company in New York City, believes he has a legitimate chance to unseat Kingston.

"Let me run on the issues and let Jack run on his voting record," he said. "The truth is something hard to run away from."

Russo, a lifelong bachelor, said approval ratings for Congress are at an all-time low, making Kingston vulnerable for the upcoming election to the 2-year seat.

"I'm a Ron Paul Democrat, not a Blue Dog Democrat," he said. "I am more conservative than Jack Kingston."

He believes voters who supported Kingston in past elections may vote for him in November because of his conservative position on most issues, he said.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the money he has to spend and a lot of the electorate has become apathetic," he said.

Russo said job creation is his No. 1 priority, with health care reform being a close second.

"I have no objections to Obama care," he said. "It the Supreme Court rules against it, we'll have to find a legal way to provide health insurance."

He also wants to support the military with more troops. One way is to reintroduce the draft for people ages 18 through 20 for two years of service. He believes it will reduce pressure on National Guard troops, reduce crime rates and increase patriotism and responsibility in America's youth.

If elected, Russo said he won't vote along party lines, but will rely on voters to help him decide whether to vote for or against an issue. Before all votes, he said he will post the legislation and a synopsis of the issue for feedback.

"I will be responsive to the people," he said. "I will make people feel more inclusive."

He admits Kingston's campaign has the ability to outspend him, but there are other ways to generate support for a campaign.

"If you have an outstanding message, maybe the media will take notice and you can get in the TV stations and newspapers," he said. "I'm going to rely on primarily on how I am different."

One of the first bills he plans to introduce, if he wins, is to cut pensions for congressmen by 10 percent.

"The people in Congress have to show Americans they understand their pain," he said. "The middle class has been giving a long time. It's time for everyone else."

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