He has no political experience and has never held elected office, but Dan Roberti, 29, used his political connections to raise the most money to date in the race for the 5th Congressional District.
Roberti raised nearly $557,000 through June 30.
Robert is the son of former Bridgeport lawmaker and influential Washington, D.C. lobbyist Vincent Roberti. As the youngest candidate in the race, Dan Roberti admits most of his contributions have come from outside the district, but he isn’t apologizing for deploying that strategy early in the race.
“The last thing a campaign wants to do is to be calling national progressive donors at the end of an election,” Roberti said in an interview at his Kent headquarters. “Those donors tend to be federally maxed out. You need to go to them first, and that’s what I did.”
“I built up the funds to not only win a primary, but a very costly general election,” Roberti said. “Chris Murphy spent $3.4 million and he didn’t even have a primary.”
Murphy isn’t running for re-election next year in the 5th and is instead running for U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s vacated seat, making the race for the 5th an open and crowded race.
“We have all along been cultivating a local program as well,” Roberti said. “By this time next year, nobody will be talking about the [lack of] local donors anymore.”
Some locals are already starting to see Roberti’s potential.
“Politics is about being able to connect with people, and Dan does that very well,” said Audrey Blondin of Litchfield. Blondin is a Democratic State Central Committee member who had considered running for the spot, but decided to endorse Roberti, instead.
“Part of the reason he has been able to come so far so fast in this race is that people are comfortable with him,” Blondin said
Roberti, who works as a consultant for PBS filmmaker Ken Burns, said the national unemployment rate, which has mostly been above 9 percent since the spring 2009, could hurt President Obama and Democratic congressional candidates next year.
“We would need a miraculous turnaround to get it where we want it to be,” he said. “However, if we see unemployment trending downward, then there will likely be more of an attitude that we don’t need to make a change at the White House.”
Roberti said ongoing housing crisis and the lack of available credit, even for businesses and consumers with good ratings, has stymied the economic recovery.
“I think it will be some time before the housing market comes back full throttle,” he said.
“In 31 years of real estate law, I’ve never seen it this bad,” Blondin, an attorney, said. “There are homes where people owe more on their mortgage than what the home is worth.”
Roberti said Obama has done “a pretty good job” after inheriting “the biggest multiple disasters since the Great Depression,” but made a mistake by not following in the foot steps of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal by making large investments in the job-creating technologies of the future.
He said the short-term infrastructure improvements in Obama’s stimulus plan “didn’t create lasting jobs.” He said he would have preferred that more money be invested in fuel-cell technology, a field in which Connecticut is a recognized leader.
Roberti said former President Bill Clinton also had a difficult first two years in office and went on to become a popular president.
“People look back on his presidency as the golden age,” he said. “But in its infancy, he had to make some tough decisions. Someday we may see that people look the same way at President Obama and he will have those same high approval ratings.”
After college, Roberti joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and worked in a homeless shelter in Spokane for a year before moving to New Orleans to pursue a graduate degree in pastoral studies.
Within 10 days of arriving, Hurricane Katrina struck causing one of the biggest natural disasters in the nation’s history. Roberti spent the next year of his life working on the relief efforts. He said “it was disappointing to see how little has been done” for the people of New Orleans by “every single layer of government.”
“It was not all George W. Bush’s fault,” the Kent Democrat said about the criticism of the former president in responding to the nation’s worst natural disaster in nearly a century. He said Louisiana Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco was not “asking for the help” that was needed.
“There was an immediate response in New York,” said Roberti referring to the assistance provided after the 9/11 attacks. “It’s a real negative mark on our history.”
“However, I am uplifted by how much has been done by the citizens of New Orleans,” said the candidate, who worked on relief programs that were organized by famed Democratic consultant James Carville.
“People would volunteer to rebuild certain sections of New Orleans,” said Roberti.
He said the French Quarter now looks about the same as it did six years ago, but there are other parts of New Orleans that “may never come back to what they were.”
Roberti is one of four candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. The other candidates include Wesleyan professor Mike Williams of New Preston, House Speaker Chris Donovan of Meriden, and Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire.