Joe Coletti has his eye on the White House. But the recent Tufts graduate is more interested in running a successful presidential campaign than holding the top job himself. At 22, heís getting his first taste of the campaign trail as field manager for a local state senate campaign.
Unlike most kids with aspirations to the White House, Tufts graduate Joseph Coletti didnít grow up harboring hopes of becoming the next Lincoln, FDR or JFK. In fact, he would rather get the commander in chief into the Oval Office than occupy it himself.
"I always knew I wanted to do something policy-related, [but] Iíd rather be in the background," says the energetic New Jersey native. "Iíd rather do the work behind the scenes and see the payoff."
Coletti, who graduated from Tufts in May with a political science degree, has been doing just that since February, when he was selected for a highly competitive and prestigious political fellowship from the Massachusetts Governor.
"It was something that Governor Mitt Romney started this year. Basically, it's sort of like recruiting the next generation of local operatives," Coletti says of the initiative, which placed him in a top post in Jim Coffeyís Massachusetts state senate campaign. "Coming out of college and being in a senior position of running a campaign? That doesn't happen very often when you're 22!"
True - but then, Coletti is remarkably driven and focused for his age.
When heís not working his typical 60-80 hour weeks for Coffeyís campaign, heís planning his future - which will likely include law school and more political campaigning.
"This job goes until November 2, and hopefully we win. In the future, I can definitely envision myself working on campaigns. Ideally, I'd like to go higher up each time: run a senate campaign, run a gubernatorial campaign, eventually get up to a national level. The big dream is to get to the White House one way or another."
Whether Coletti - a self-described "lifelong independent and issue-to-issue voter" - gets to the White House behind a Republican or a Democrat remains in question.
"If Iím really going to be heart-and-soul into a campaign, be on a full-time staff getting a person elected, Iím going to have to believe a lot of the same things they do," he says. Luckily, his Fellowship placement puts him in such a position: "Iím happy because I really like Jim Coffey, and I really believe in what heís trying to do," Coletti says.
Colettiís enthusiasm for his candidate is matched in magnitude by his responsibilities as the campaignís field director.
"Iím mainly in charge of the field operation," says Coletti, who is focused on coordinating volunteer activities, raising funds and educating constituents about Coffey's positions. He adds that generating visibility for his candidate (a Republican running in a Democratic stronghold) is key.
"If Iím really going to be heart-and-soul into a campaign, be on a full-time staff getting a person elected, Iím going to have to believe a lot of the same things they do. Iím happy because I really like Jim Coffey, and I really believe in what heís trying to do."
"Voter ID and fundraising are probably the two biggest things we need to do in an election," Coletti says. "Voter ID is basically contacting as many unenrolleds and Republicans as we can and seeing where they stand - whether theyíre for us or against us, or undecided. That just involves an incredible amount of phone banking, door knocking - itís pretty much as grass roots as youíre going to get."
Coletti - a former soccer player at Tufts - is no stranger to driving voters to the polls. Last summer, he worked for New Jersey state senator Tom Kean, Jr.ís successful reelection campaign, and during his sophomore year at Tufts, he joined ELBO, the board that runs all of the elections for seats on the student senate and judiciary board.
"We had a 52 percent turnout, the highest in Tuftsí history, and it was the first online election, something I pushed really hard for," he says, adding, "I think that if you get people interested in politics on a campus level, they start to pay more attention on a local and national level."
In September, after the Democratic primary determined Coffeyís opponent, Colettiís already jam-packed schedule became even more so as the campaign kicked into high gear.
"We start at six in the morning and we end in the wee hours of the early morning," he says. "Iím not able to catch up on email or anything else until 10, 11 at night, so we spend the early morning hours setting up for the following day."
Colettiís not alone in burning the midnight oil.
"It's great because since it's a fellowship, there's still sort of a sense of being a 'class' in a way," he says of his fellow Fellows. "We live in four separate locations in groups of four or five, so there's some camaraderie that forms. We're sort of a team, even though we work on separate campaigns."
In addition to their official responsibilities, that team has had to learn to balance their youth with their political power.
"Our candidate - heís 41 years old, an accomplished lawyer in Boston - says itís tough to come in and have people half his age telling him what to do," Coletti says. "And thatís pretty much how it goes: Everyone we deal with is going to be twice our age the majority of the time, and usually they have to listen to us, so you have to approach them in a very polite and evenhanded manner just to get your point across. You canít just come in and expect them to do what you say. You have to lobby for it."
Coletti hopes to one day provide other young Tufts graduates with the same opportunity to find their footing in the political sphere. "I want to give back to Tufts," he says. "Eventually, Iíd love to start some sort of fellowship for students there, something like what Iím doing now."
But for now, all of Colettiís energy is focused on securing a victory for Coffey in the approaching state senate election - both because he genuinely believes in his candidate, and because success for Coffey would spell success for Coletti. "When you win a race, people start to realize you know what youíre doing," he says.
Whether or not his candidate wakes up a senator on November 2, though, Colettiís Fellowship has given him valuable insight into his chosen career.
"Hopefully one day Iíll be on somebodyís senior staff, and when I get there, Iím going to have an appreciation of how valuable grass-roots organization is," he says, suddenly pensive. "When you get to the point of being senior staff, you can sort of lose touch with the fact that it doesnít matter how much money you raise if you donít have a good grass-roots plan with a lot of regular people helping out."
But then Coletti smiles. "So itís good that Iím here now," he says. "Iím going to remember this, and itís going to stick with me." All the way, perhaps, to a spot - behind the scenes, of course - at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Profile by Patrice Taddonio, Class of 2006
Patrice Taddonio, a native of Holland, Pennsylvania, is an English major and a communications and media studies minor. Currently the Tufts Daily's head features editor, she interned with the Improper Bostonian magazine during her sophomore year, and worked as a temporary text editor with the Associated Press at this July's Democratic National Convention. A member of the Class of 2006 and a songwriter, Taddonio has also performed on guitar and vocals at on-campus venues and at Boston-area benefits.
This story originally ran on Oct. 18, 2004