Rochelle Dornatt



Title: Chief of staff for Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.)
Age: 52
Hometown: Detroit
Last job: Chief of staff for former Rep. Tom Sawyer (D-Ohio)
First job: Flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s; 15 years old
First “real” job: Junior lobbyist for solar energy
Most unusual job: Catechism teacher for first- and third-graders
Religion: Roman Catholic
Education: B.A. in political science and American history, Marygrove College, 1977; M.A. in legislative affairs, George Washington University, 1981
Managerial style: Inclusive, team-oriented
Professional dream: White House legislative affairs staff
Claim to fame: Helped write the Americans with Disabilities Act
Passion outside of politics: Gardening
Most embarrassing moment: Walking in on an intimate moment between a member (not her current boss) and his significant other. “I was like, ‘Oh, sorry, all right’ and I just turned around and left.” The member is no longer in Congress. But at the time, it was awkward and embarrassing — and Dornatt ran into him frequently.
Most inspirational figure: John F. Kennedy
Favorite political TV show or movie: “The Manchurian Candidate” (the original)

Rochelle Dornatt recalls working to create the Americans with Disabilities Act under former Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.). Among the most difficult parts of structuring the bill, she recalls, was convincing businesses they could make money from people in the disabled community.

Serendipitously, one afternoon at a staff reunion picnic in 1993 at Coelho’s house in McLean, Va., Dornatt was approached with a job offer from her present boss, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.).

At the time, she was pursuing a job on President Bill Clinton’s staff. “But they were taking so long in clearing people,” Dornatt said.  

“So when Farr’s office called, I said, ‘What the heck.’ Here I am 15 years later.”

Dornatt takes her high position seriously and tries not to abuse the power that comes with it. “It’s one of those things, if you’re going to be a staff member and in the position of confidence, you just don’t go around and tattle,” she said.

The hardest part of Dornatt’s job as chief of staff is anticipating Farr’s needs after a nine-hour commute to or from California.

“His internal clock is always off, so you’re always trying to figure out what time zone is he in and is this the right time to tell him X, Y, Z.” she said.