Wednesday, April 28, 2010

That Activist Treasurer Candidate

Steve Grossman has at least one powerful tie and quite a few powerful ideas. This morning at the Parker House where he formally announced his run for MA treasurer, he displayed them all.

Quick to say that he is not a professional politician, Grossman showed the 100 or so of us that he is not an entertainer. He's not a charismatic preacher sort or even a sales type.

What he is includes low-key witty, totally sincere and far, far ahead of his two announced opponents in positions and proposals. By the bye, you can judge the latter at:
He's set the standard for content and set it high. They can only react.
Left Ahead! aside: Grossman joins us Tuesday, May 4th, for our podcast at 2:30 PM Eastern. I'd asked Murphy nearly a month ago. He said he wanted to and would get back with us within the month. Tick.
Come with me to the Kennedy Room (of course) this morning for a taste of what we'd get in a Tim Cahill replacement as treasurer. Note first that Grossman may not be a pol, but he knows them. He headed the DNC in the Clinton era from 1997 through 1999. His work there lets him use laudatory blurbs on his brochure from Clinton and Ted Kennedy. He took off from heading the family business, Grossman Marketing Group to do Dem party work (leading in turn commonwealth then national). That tradition permeates the family back to his grandfather Max' helping re-elect John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald Boston mayor. It's not enough for a Grossman to be a successful entrepreneur.

Think back to the Patrick/Murray campaign kickoff in JP. Many hundreds stomping in a gym as Deval Patrick, Tito Jackson and other rousers fired 'em up. Today's version wasn't like that. Rather it was much smaller. The crowd applauded and cheered almost non-stop, but it was almost entirely over what he said and not the delivery.

The only other comparison is that Grossman too started late (about 40 minutes to Patrick's 90). That afforded eavesdropping time today. In the row behind me, for example, leftist, philanthropic sorts Brookline realty goddess Chobee Hoy and Boston/NYC socialite Smoki Bacon chatted it up. That type of friend can only help the campaign. Likewise, a few legislators like Sen. Jamie Eldridge trotted down Beacon Street for the event.

The room was not even ballroom size and set with only 24 chairs facing the dais with a single podium. There were no little bribes like coffee or doughnuts. You came for Grossman and you'd get Grossman. Period. The muted golden floral carpet paralleled Grossman's substance and seriousness. He didn't use a warm-up act and introduced himself.

Apparently he's not rigid on conventions. For example, as you are supposed to start your music album with a fast tune, you hear that your speech needs to open with a joke.

Instead, he started with his family...and not in the abstract. Half of the chairs had reserved-for-family signs and then had family in them. He introduced four generations of them, several who work in his company, from his mother and mother-in-law down to the itty-bitty grandkids. The 13-month one got a pass on the trip.

His wife, Barbara Wallace Grossman, chairs Tufts' drama and dance department. She is quite short but has the presence of Queen Elizabeth. She also seems to have perfected Elizabeth's swivel-wrist wave. Like the other adults Steve introduced, she projects intensity and competence.

The recurring family theme gave Grossman his joke material, his punchline for the morning, and the repeated tie-in to his aims as candidate for treasurer. Joke 1 was not new but well delivered; his father said he had one mouth and two ears, to use them proportionately. That led to his saying he applied that to listening to customers, employees and citizens.

Joke 2 was that his sons told him he had better win this election. The reason is that "being chairman isn't a job."

Grossman isn't smarmy or even charming in the style of Clinton. He has a clipped, rapid delivery, which works in large part because he speaks clearly and with substance. There was never a moment that I felt he was trying to pull something. Instead, he was far better prepared than typical candidates, offered detailed proposals and used his right hand to reinforce his points. He's comfortable on stage.

The only quibble relates more to his personal style and manners. During a brief question period at the end, two difference reporters tried to draw him into dissing the current treasurer, Tim Cahill, who is stepping down and running as an independent for governor, and then Gov. Patrick. Grossman would have none of it. Rather than say Cahill goofed up here or there and that Patrick hadn't done enough to grow or retain jobs, he went into specifics about what he'd do as treasurer to solve problems.

Yet behind it all is an almost revolutionary program, which Grossman refers to as activist. I think of how things might change if Jim Henderson wins secretary of the commonwealth. Both want to make numerous substantial changes in the the offices.

For Grossman, he refers to treasurer as chief financial officer of this commonwealth. As CFO, he'd want to do a lot more than oversee the lottery and tally the pension funds.

His stated aims are far-reaching in terms of the traditional view of the position. He'd like to help people and companies get back on their feet out of this great recession. He wants to help small businesses. He wants to hold banks accountable for how and to whom they lend. He wants to give citizens easy-to-understand practical solutions to their financial concerns. Finally and of prime importance, he wants to help create jobs here.

Unlike the typical generalizations from statewide office candidates, he puts out specifics. That reminds me of Patrick when he ran for governor. Neither is afraid to be first out with a detailed program; let the others play catch-up and try to poke holes in his platform. Hey, it worked for Patrick.

Sticking His Neck Out

He offers six solutions. They don't yet appear in this form in his site's issues area, but I bet they will soon. Briefly, they are:
  • Use the full power of the pension funds to create jobs. He sees shifting a half billion dollars to safe lending and investment designed to grow employment. He'd invest our money with banks that lend to small businesses.
  • Protect consumers by moving money. He would lend to small businesses, help those in foreclosure, and remove state funds from companies with high (think 30%) credit-card interest rates.
  • Work with the legislature to re-enable letting small business groups negotiate rates and buy insurance together.
  • Provide and enhance financial literacy for citizens from secondary school up so they are smart consumers.
  • Provide complete and online transparency and accountability for details on those dealing with the commonwealth.
  • Open the treasury to all who can compete for its needs, not just the biggest banks.
He clearly has set the tone and topics for this race. There's lots of time for the other two to compete on substance. If their sites are any indication, they're not in the game yet.

By the bye, in the Q&A, he explained why he is pro-casino. Among other factors, he buys into the arguments that those would bring steady cash flow as well as maybe 7,000 building trades short-term jobs and perhaps another 8,000 in permanent service ones. I remain to be convinced.

Of course, Grossman managed to circle his presentation back to his family, this time to father Edgar. It was almost an I-swear-on-my-father's-grave moment. Instead, it was how he used his father's epitaph for inspiration. He says that tombstone reads "HE MADE OPTIMISM A WAY OF LIFE."

Tags: , , , ,


Anonymous said...

Steve Grossman is the kind of businessman the Democratic Party needs as a nominee. A long time party activist, a grassroots guy who got his hands dirty in City Council and State Rep races. A businessman who not only talks about jobs but runs a union company that provides wages and benefits workers can raise a family with.

Raher than arich corporate raider who thinks starting at the bottom in politics means sunning for Ted Kennedy's seat, Steve is a responsible, smart, serious and committed business owner who will bring his success to the Treasurer's office.

Ken Harvey said...

I agree that Steve Grossman is a great candidate for treasurer. He is an extremely fair and decent man. And he sticks his neck out for people before anyone else thinks they have a chance: remember his early support of Howard Dean for President? I never thought I'd be excited about voting for treasurer, but this year I am.