Melissa Russo is an award-winning Government Affairs Reporter, covering New York politics and policy for more than a decade.
Russo joined NBC New York’s political team in 1998 and has been first to break major stories including the breakdown of the computerized case-management system used by the Administration for Children's Services (ACS); Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plans to raise property taxes; and Bloomberg’s plan to close local firehouses.
Russo also first reported the death of baby Matthew Perilli who died in an unsupervised childcare center as City officials bungled an inspection; uncovered the Meals-on-Wheels mistakes in the Bronx that left elderly New Yorkers waiting days for food; provided advanced details of the final World Trade Center Memorial plans; revealed that thousands of childcare slots were being wasted because of bureaucratic clumsiness; and interviewed the fire union president who admitted that New York City firefighters had a drinking problem.
In addition to Russo’s ongoing coverage of City Hall, she has brought attention to the struggles of New York's most vulnerable citizens including children, the elderly and the homeless, which has resulted in changes to government policy.
Russo was the first reporter to obtain access inside the City's troubled Emergency Assistance Unit where she uncovered and documented deplorable conditions and policies that harm children. Mayor Bloomberg ordered a multi-agency investigation after Russo broke the story in 2002 of Jason-Eric Wilson, a teenager who committed suicide after experiencing many problems in the city's homeless shelter system. Her coverage exposed how the city had denied the Wilson family emergency services, including food even though they qualified, leading to disciplinary action against several city employees and sweeping changes in the homeless shelter system.
Russo also first reported that New York's emergency food supply had run out, prompting an immediate infusion of two million dollars in funding the next day. In 2001, the City Council played Russo’s series on the denial of emergency shelter to domestic violence victims at an oversight hearing.
Russo also broke the story concerning a loophole in a new State adoption law that threatened to separate foster children from their lifelong caregivers. After watching her report on WNBC’s 5PM newscast, Governor George Pataki contacted Russo directly to state that he would introduce legislation to close the loophole, which he did.
When the governor signed the bill into law, he personally presented Russo with her own personal signed copy. During the summer of 2000, Russo uncovered that the Giuliani Administration was quietly suing senior citizens for much of their retirement savings to recoup Medicaid dollars spent on their spouses' nursing home care. After the reports aired, Mayor Rudy Giuliani called for an end to the policy that threatened to force many seniors into public assistance.
Russo’s incisive reports on issues affecting seniors have earned her several honors including the 2003 American Society on Aging Media Award for Exceptional Coverage of Aging Issues; the Voice Award from the NYC Council of Senior Centers; and the Media Makes a Difference Award from New York's Joint Public Action Campaign for the Elderly. Russo’s particular interest in covering senior policy is a direct result of her close relationship with and involvement in the care of her now deceased grandmother, Norma.
Russo’s time in front of a camera began as a child actor in television commercials, which helped pay her private school tuition. Early on she displayed an interest in learning how others live. She refined that interest in her many of her early work experiences, from volunteering at a Harlem storefront school, to interning at the White House, to working for The New York Times Editorial Page during college.
While an undergraduate at Tufts University, Russo wrote several articles that were published in The New York Times, including an Op-Ed on a controversial policy limiting free speech on the Tufts campus. One day after Russo’s Op-Ed appeared in print, Tufts rescinded its policy.
Prior to joining WNBC, Melissa began her TV journalism career as an original member of the NY1 News Political Unit. While there, she covered all aspects of New York City politics and government generating numerous exclusives and investigative series on city and state politics, policies and programs. In addition, she hosted “Inside City Hall,” NY1’s live hour-long political program that interviewed Senators, Mayors and various other newsmakers.
During her tenure at NY1, she videotaped hundreds of her own stories sparking a strong passion for photography, which she pursues in her spare time.
Before NY1, Russo served as an associate producer/video journalist for the TIME, Inc. Magazine Group where she produced television segments of stories appearing in the magazines of TIME, Inc. She has also held several prestigious internships including a position in the Office of Media Relations at the White House, and a post as the sole assistant to The New York Times editorial board.