NEW BRITAIN—“You’re very handsome,” one woman told Dan Roberti as he worked his way around the tables at the New Britain Senior Center Wednesday.
The 30-year-old congressional candidate, who is making his first bid for public office, warned her that his head was going to get too big from comments like that, and moved onto the next table.
“There’s a candy bar inside,” Roberti told one gentleman as he handed him the campaign travel mug then showed him how to screw off the cap to get to the candy inside. Roberti explained he was running for Congress and handed the gentleman some literature.
“I hope you get it,” the man replied.
Roberti is one of three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District. He will be competing against House Speaker Chris Donovan and former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty in an Aug. 14 primary.
Roberti was accompanied on his visit to the senior center Wednesday by Marilyn Katz Harper, the wife of former state Sen. Joseph Harper, a veteran lawmaker who is still very much involved in New Britain politics.
“He’s bright, energetic and he doesn’t have any scars on him,” Harper said of Roberti.
She guided Roberti from room-to-room to make sure he shook hands with all the seniors and panicked for a moment when they ran out of candy.
“We have to get some more,” Harper said.
Roberti assured her it would be okay and they would send someone to the store to get some more candy to put in the “Dan Roberti” travel mugs. The crisis was averted when they found some candy, which had spilled out into one of the vehicles. The last two seniors were able to get their candy and a mug.
After the brief moment of candy panic, Harper and Roberti, trailed by a three campaign workers, made their way back to the large room where about 50 seniors were going to start eating their pizza lunch. The jazz band stopped and gave the microphone to Roberti who took a few minutes to introduce himself to the crowd.
“My background is very different than most politicians. I truly am the non-career politician in this race. My background is grounded in service work,” Roberti told the crowd.
He painted himself as similar to U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, the current 5th District congressman who is running for the U.S. Senate. Roberti explained he’s running for congress to replace Murphy, who he thinks has done a “wonderful” job.
“I’m not running to be your congressman, I’m running to be your representative,” Roberti told the seniors. “Because that’s what this is about. It’s about listening to your needs and hearing the fact that you want to make sure Social Security and Medicare are not just protected for you, and to make sure that your Medicare is not cut down—but to make sure your children and grandchildren have access to Social Security and Medicare”
He said he can’t make any promises and he hates when “politicians say promise,” but that he will listen to their issues and take “very personally your battles.”
“I will fight every single day to be a voice of reason in the gridlock that is Washington,” Roberti said.
The young candidate, whose father Vin Roberti, is a former state representative from Bridgeport and a powerful Washington D.C. lobbyist, isn’t as well-known as his two Democratic opponents but until recently he had kept up with their fundraising efforts.
According to the latest FEC report, Roberti received $75,505 in contributions over the past two months and has $288,412 cash on hand heading into the Aug. 14 primary. The totals are impressive for a political newcomer, however, he has burned through the cash at a greater rate than his Democratic opponents, spending more than he brought in over the past two months.
Late Wednesday afternoon, hours after his visit to the senior center, the Register Citizen reported that a SuperPAC called “New Directions for America” raised $95,000 during the last quarter and many of the individuals and corporations that gave to it also gave to Roberti’s campaign, or do business with his father.
Roberti said he has no idea if the “New Directions for America” PAC has been set up to support his candidacy.
“I can’t call those folks and ask them about it,” Roberti said Thursday.
He said the individuals listed in the news report are individuals who have given to several campaigns.
“I don’t know what’s fact and what’s fiction,” Roberti said Thursday in a phone interview.
He said the only SuperPAC he knows of supporting a candidate in Connecticut is the one set up for Murphy’s U.S. Senate campaign.
Roberti, who would support U.S. Rep. John Larson’s Fair Elections Now legislation, said he “is a big fan of some sort of public finance system” at the Congressional level.
He called the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed for individuals and corporations to give unlimited amounts of money anonymously through these PACs, “insane.”
However, Roberti himself has been a generous political donor. From U.S. Reps. Nancy Pelosi to Charles Rangle, Roberti made nearly $84,000 to candidates and committees from 2008 through 2010, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Roberti has said the donations were made through his trust fund.
“Instead of accessing it and buying a new car, I accessed it and gave it to a number of different philanthropic endeavors that I believe in and candidates,” he said during a press conference in June.
Roberti, who has about $7,000 in student loans he’s paying on a monthly basis, said he doesn’t understand why people find it so hard to believe he still has student loans. Asked why he wouldn’t use his trust fund to pay off the student loans, Roberti said he went to college on student loans and pays the minimum every month.