Thursday, October 07, 2010

MA Treasurer - Battle of the Granddads

Francesco and Max live least during the campaign for MA Treasurer. In what moderator of the quasi-debate (a.k.a. forum) compared euphemistically to more exciting than teaching his 16-year-old to drive, the two candidates were fully engaged — like a pair of stranger cats circling.

Prof. Alasdair Roberts of Suffolk Law could have used a referee's whistle. He did an excellent job of keeping Dem Steve Grossman and GOP Karyn Polito focused. He couldn't keep them, particularly Polito, from running overtime per answer, but it was close enough.

This event at the school's Rappaport Center was another good argument for argument. This pair could have used the traditional format where candidates could run with a topic and go back and forth until the subject and perhaps they and the audience were exhausted.

Instead, we got the now common three-minute opening from each, a question each had a short time to answer and maybe a 30-second (30 second?!) rebuttal from each. It's like making out, but only first base, again and again and again.

It's both endearing and a bit staged that each candidate resurrects departed elders. From time to time, like on her campaign site, Polito shows pictures of a grandfather with her. At this forum, she reached back to Columbus Day 1910 (not a federal holiday until 1934, but who wants to quibble?). She said great-grandfather Francesco Polito (above left) arrived at Ellis Island to create his American dream.

Grossman revivified his grandfather, Maxwell Grossman (above right) a short time later. In 1909, he founded the family business, then Massachusetts Envelope Company.

Using the ancestors as props and examples may be a little cynical, but both candidates found these men good proxies for the messages they want to present of themselves.

Specifically, on her site and in person, Polito claims to emulate — and wish for her state — her great-granddad's ideals of paying bills on time, making wise investments, and not spending unnecessarily.

Grossman's grandfather was of the same era and apparently offered his similar values and more. Every stump speech I've heard from him includes a recounting of his last visit with his GD and the patriarch's pre-WWI values — starting his own business, living within his means, having a family, and giving back to the community.

Grossman personally can certainly out-old fashioned Polito. He clearly remains the Eagle Scout he became, much as a Marine is always one. I can't imagine him lying or evading responsibility for an error. Yet both of them speak in sampler phrases of their ancestors' transferred wisdom. That is certainly not to deride those sentiments; each concept is the minimum of what we should expect from a Treasurer. Grossman goes farther with his record of philanthropy and volunteerism, but they are pretty close in sentiment.

Coincidentally, it was singularly unconvincing for two very wealthy people to brag that they would not take a public pension for the Treasurer job. Neither needs the money and more important, neither would find a pension as any meaningful incentive to seek and serve. Of course, for many other office holders, taking such a positions means a tremendous loss of income while serving. For them, a decent pension may tip the balance to their lending expertise for four or more years.

Related: A shallow post on their appearances is here. Commentary on the forum is here.

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