MAGOV14 : THE RIDDLE OF STEVE GROSSMAN’S CANDIDACY

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^ speaking to the few : steve Grossman at Merengue Restaurant on Blue Hill Avenue (to his right, Merengue’s Hector Pina and, to the left of Pina, Mrs. Grossman)

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Here’s the riddle ; Steve Grossman, Massachusetts’s State Treasurer, should be the front runner for the Democratic nomination, but he isn’t. In every poll, he badly trails his main rival, Attorney General Martha Coakley.

That he won the Democratic convention’s endorsement doesn’t seem to matter at all. It often doesn’t matter to ordinary Primary voters, but never have I seen a convention endorsee trailing a rival by 30 points, as Grossman has until recently.

Grossman is articulate and authoritative, Coakley glib and vague. Yet she leads, and he trails. badly.

Grossman attributes it to “lack of name recognition,” and he’s right about that ; over 50 percent of voters intending to vote in the Democratic primary ay they don’t know him at all, or too little to have an opinion. But why is this so ? Grossman was elected statewide in 2010, in a hard fought and close race, and for at least twenty years before that he was a major Democratic activist — party chairman, national committeeman. Granted that these are party offices, not general public. But you would think that most members of his party, at least, would be fairly familiar with their top leaders.

I certainly thought so, but I have been wrong. Grossman’s lack of name recognition tells me that in Massachusetts, party identification doesn’t matter very much. Who we elect to state offices — unlike to national ones — is pretty much a non-partisan thing.

That, i think, is the real reason that Steve Grossman polls so poorly only seven weeks before the Democratic primary ; nonpartisan is something he has scant experience at being. His entire career has blossomed inside the cocoon of Party.

This year, Grossman’s career as party man especially hurts, because in this election the Democratic party — Grossman’s party — has concentrated its efforts almost entirely in the high-income, technology-oriented suburbs that surround boston and drive its economy and culture : Newton (where Grossman lives, Brookline, Watertown, Belmont, Cambridge, Wellesley, Lexington, Arlington, Concord, Lincoln, Winchester. In these communities os the money that Democratic candidates need. And the activists : the first Governor Forum of this season took place in Lexington in January and was attended by at least 300 people. When Juliette Kayyem chose a location whence to re-up her underdog candidacy, she chose Arlington. even Don Berwick, the Democrats’ ,most outspoken progressive, voices the issues of the high-income suburbs.

Meanwhile, the big cities, the most Democratic-voting communities in our state, have gone almost unattended until lately, and it shows. Last night Steve Grossman held a meet and greet at Merengue Restaurant on Boston’s blue Hill Avenue : about 20 people attended.

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20 for Steve : that was all…

This had to disappoint Grossman. He’s the convention endorsee, the meet and greet was hosted by a major Boston political player — Jovita Fontanez, a former election commissioner and veteran of 30 years of campaigns — and yet only 20 people showed up. Only two months ago, Felix Arroyo, running for a low-level office, Register of Probate in Suffolk County, put 100 people in the same room; and last year, Mike Flaherty, running or Boston City Council, drew at least that many to the same Merengue room.

Quite obviously, city activists have noted where the Democratic candidates have put their chips down and where not.

All three Democratic governor rivals — Coakley and Berwick as well as Grossman — are now making campaign stops all across boston, but it’s very late in the game, and it’s summer : many boston voters are off to Cape Cod or thinking vacation, not politics. it was so even in last year’s intense Mayor campaign. all the more so for governor candidates who talk the talk of Newton, Brookline, Lexington, and Arlington.

But Grossman is beginning to get it. campaigning to city voters entails something other than high-minded reform. it entails jobs. Speaking to the 20 attendees at last night’s meet and greet, Grossman hit a home run, not by voicing his strong support for the 1,000 refugee children now in Massachusetts — that was a given, for this entirely hispanic audience — but when he mentioned that “as governor i will supervise 85,000 jobs. imagine what it would mean for diverse communities if 35 percent of them were from diverse backgrounds !”

Jobs and more jobs. That is indeed what city activists want to hear. Jobs that won’t be laid off — as united Airlines is now doing to 650 gate attendees, whose $ 50,000 salaries will be replaced with minimum wage subcontractors. Jobs that can help a three-decker, renting family move up in life.

That Grossman cannot simply fire 35 percent of the state work force and replace them with his supporters didn’t seem to matter to his listeners. It was enough that Grossman at least understood what the objective is.

Grossman knows all the issues and articulates sensible answers to most. He spoke about the obstacles faced in Massachusetts by small businesses, especially those run by immigrants, women, and minorities — Merengue is just such a small business, nd its owner, Hector Pina, was in the room — and touted his work as Treasurer in securing $ 1.7 billion of bank loans for small businesses owned by women, minorities, and immigrants. No candidate for governor this year has a better handle on what such small businesses need; certainly Martha Coakley has yet to say anything of substance about it.

Grossman speaks with equal authority on just about every issue you can name, from state management to technology to energy to transportation, even education; yet it hasn’t mattered much — so far. That may be changing ; today’s Boston Globe poll has Grossman at 18 percent, Coakley at 46 : his best, her weakest showing yet.

A 28 point gap, however, is nothing to cheer about with so little campaign time left. And so Grossman is going to start door-knocking. He makes the point ; “door knocking, in a statewide race ? Yes. i want the people to see me and hear from me,” he told last night’s attendees.

He may well want voters to see and hear him; but the big reason for him to door-knock is that it will likely get him major media attention. door knocking, in a statewide race ? That IS news. And news, he needs. Lots of it, and lots more. Door-knocking is Grossman’s Hail Mary pass.

It may work. That and the one million dollars that he has in the bank, to spend on advertising, the final two weeks of the campaign, to all those 52 percent of primary voters — probably mostly City people — who don’t know much about him.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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