He is young and without experience in elected office, but family connections in the film business and national politics have helped Dan Roberti get noticed as the early fund-raising leader among Democrats seeking the open seat in 5th Congressional District.
The challenge now for Roberti, whose competition includes the speaker of the state House of Representatives, is to establish an identity as a candidate with more than deep pockets and a well-connected father.
Roberti’s father, Vincent, represented Bridgeport in the state House for four terms before becoming an influential Washington lobbyist, Democratic fund-raiser and movie producer whose acquaintances include the Vice President Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi.
When then-Sen. Biden was the keynote speaker years ago at annual Jefferson-Jackson-Baily Dinner in Hartford, he publicly thanked the older Roberti for providing air transportation.
Dan Roberti has reported raising nearly $557,000 through June 30, much of it from prominent Democratic donors outside Connecticut. His first-quarter filing was even more impressive: He raised $255,900 just 17 days after opening his campaign.
“I’m not new to folks in the Democratic party,” he said. “Everybody came out and supported me when I made this decision.”
Roberti, 29, who lives in Kent, currently works for filmmaker Ken Burns, helping him organize educational campaigns about the preservation of national parks and America’s infrastructure.
His previous work experience is diverse, but limited when it comes to legislation or public policy. He emphasizes a background in public service, helping people in a time of need.
After college, he joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and worked in a homeless shelter in Spokane, Wash. for a year.
He moved to New Orleans to pursue a graduate degree in pastoral studies, or the teaching of religion and faith. He said that within six days of arriving, Hurricane Katrina first formed as a tropical depression.
Roberti left during the evacuation. On a visit to Washington, D.C., he met Bill Clinton adviser James Carville in a restaurant and the two began discussing the devastation in New Orleans. Carville, who has Louisiana ties, asked if Roberti wanted to help him with a project promoting awareness and facilitating outreach in the aftermath of Katrina.
“It very quickly became a job,” he said.
Roberti helped Carville organize Katrina relief efforts, media outreach and public education programs. Carville’s campaign and a variety of other efforts eventually formed the private non-profit organization, Friends of New Orleans. Despite his lack of legislative experience, Roberti said that working with Carville coached him on the legislative process.
“I was able to see how Washington worked,” he said. “I know what it takes to get a bill through Congress. It’s about building coalitions, compromising and working with others.”
Roberti left Carville to return to New Orleans and finish his master’s degree, but he soon received a call saying his mother, who raised him after his parents’ divorce, suffered from stage four melanoma. He came to Connecticut to care for her after doctors gave her two months to live. Roberti said she’s survived for four years now.
He said helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina, volunteering at a homeless shelter and helping his mother navigate the health care field inspires him to help and represent other people when they need it most.
“It’s grown a bigger and bigger fire inside of me,” he said.
Roberti’s platform reflects his work with Burns by emphasizing job growth through investments in Connecticut’s infrastructure, specifically high-speed rail. He said that as a member of Congress, he would push for expansions of the Metro-North rail service.
“High-speed rail brings jobs to Connecticut,” he said. “It carries people to businesses in other towns, growing the economy. It helps the environment and it invests in the future.”
He said high-speed rail also helps preserve the environment. By investing in technical training, Roberti said Connecticut can produce more jobs that work with clean energy companies like Fuel Cell Energy, Inc. based in Danbury.
Last week, he tried mixing it up for the first time with the best-known Democrat in the race, House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, faulting him for acceding to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan for budget cuts and layoffs in the wake of a failed concession deal.