Veteran Dems square off in Treasurer bout

It’s noontime on a recent Saturday and Steve Grossman is eating ice cream. “This is really good ice cream,” he says, digging into a small bowl full of the maple walnut flavor, courtesy of the Ice Creamsmith in Lower Mills.

His father had ice cream at home “all the time,” usually Brigham’s frozen pudding with fruit, and his grandmother would walk from Cleveland Circle to Coolidge Corner nearly every day of her life to have some ice cream, he says. He transitions to talking about his grandfather, who started Grossman Marketing Group a century ago.

“The American dream is that if you work hard and play by the rules, whatever the rules are, that each generation will have a slightly higher standard of living than the one before it,” he said. “My grandfather never went to college, he worked his butt off all his life so his kids could go to college…Yet we’re in an era in which people are looking out and are saying, ‘My standard of living is lower than the one that my parents enjoyed. And my kids’ standard of living may be lower than the standard of living that I’ve enjoyed, with all the cutbacks and all the pink slips, and the possibility of more layoffs of firefighters and police officers and teachers and libraries being closed.’ ”

And with that, he pivots away from talking about his family and the ice cream shops he has been hitting around the state in an attempt to promote (and ease voters into) his campaign for the position of state treasurer.

Treasurer Timothy Cahill isn’t running for re-election, instead choosing to leave the Democratic Party and run for governor as an independent. Grossman immediately leapt at the chance to replace him, and earlier this year, after thinking about jumping into the auditor’s race, Boston City Councillor Stephen Murphy joined him.

The winner of the Sept. 14 primary will face Republican Karyn Polito, a fiscally conservative state representative from Shrewsbury, in the general election on Nov. 2.

Both Grossman and Murphy are longtime members of the Democratic Party and widely considered inside players. Grossman, who is close to Michael Whouley, a top political consultant and Dorchester native, has chaired the state committee and the national committee, helping fundraise and elect candidates, as well as run for office himself. He unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2002.

Murphy, a Dorchester native, is mounting his second run for treasurer, having run against Cahill and several others in 2002, and is touting himself as someone of “modest means” who can connect with financially-hurting voters.

For Grossman’s part, his pitch goes like this: Small businesses need access to capital, and it’s something big banks have not freed up, despite the bailout last year. “I want to move money into the local community banks, which have a demonstrated track record of lending money,” he said, and require them to disclose quarterly that they’re lending the money they said they would.

Murphy said he had a similar idea last time he ran for treasurer. “I talked about it eight years ago when I first ran for treasurer, the need to not reward the big banks who are in the credit card business and again, the big banks were bailed out,” he said. “They sat on the money, they didn’t pump it back into the economy, so you have over 40 percent unemployment in construction, and they raised credit card interest rates on us, the middle class, to pay back us, the middle class, the taxpayers that had bailed them out. And they gave themselves bonuses and said everything is fine with us. I have a real problem with that.”

Grossman says they differ in their approach, Murphy having suggested creating a kind of state bank, which will lead to a “whole new big government bureaucracy.”

Both Grossman and Murphy call for more transparency in how the state is spending its money.
And both candidates shy away from criticism of Cahill, instead praising his oversight of the Massachusetts School Building Authority and the state Lottery. “You can’t argue with success at the Lottery,” Grossman says, while Murphy gives Cahill a “B.”

In a State House News Service poll released Tuesday, Murphy led Grossman, 18 to 14 percent. But that is within the margin of error – 6.1 percent – for the 250 likely Democratic voters polled, according to the Beacon Hill wire service. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they don’t know for whom they’ll vote.

One out of four votes is expected to be from a union household on Primary Day. (Grossman notes his company has never had to go to arbitration, he believes in collective bargaining as the “first option,” and he pays his employees well.)

Grossman went up with television ads emphasizing his treatment of his workers last week, soon after Murphy launched his focusing on the state’s fiscal condition.

Grossman has seven people working full-time “in the field” across the state. “I don’t take anything for granted,” he said.

“He has a base, he has a proven base going back to the late ‘90s,” Grossman said of Murphy. “And he’s been able to marshal that base.”

But Grossman has racked up endorsements from a number of Dorchester pols: state Reps. Marty Walsh, Linda Dorcena Forry, and Willie Mae Allen, and former state Rep. Marie St. Fleur, who now works for Mayor Thomas Menino. Dorcena Forry is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.

As for the mayor himself, the race has put him in an awkward position. Both Grossman and Murphy have helped out Menino, with Grossman having made several campaign donations and Murphy being a mayoral ally on the 13-member City Council. Menino’s crew has been freed to work for whomever they want.

“The mayor is a good friend,” Grossman said. “I think the mayor has got a lot of good friends and I hope he’ll be helpful to me.”

Murphy, who also unsuccessfully ran for Suffolk County sheriff, nearly topped the ticket for City Council At-Large last fall, and he says he represents a tenth of the state’s population as one of Boston’s four city councillors at-large.

“I like the contrast, frankly, between Mr. Grossman and myself. I categorize him as a top-down Democrat,” Murphy said, while grabbing lunch at the Doubletree Hotel by the Dorchester Reporter offices before heading off to Hyannis. “‘I was appointed this, I was appointed that…my father left me a corporation which I run today.’ And I come from the bottom-up.”

Murphy, once a driver for former City Councillor Dapper O’Neill, says he has support from longtime Dorchester City Councillor Maureen Feeney, City Councillor At-Large John Connolly, and Councillors Charles Yancey and Chuck Turner.

He also has former Senate President William Bulger, a former employer, supporting him, as well as former Treasurer Robert Crane, who held that office for 27 years.

Murphy adds: “I’ve not asked for an endorsement from anybody. In fact, none of them have officially filled out an ‘I Endorse You’ but they’re all willing to help me in my efforts. I don’t want to be the guy coming over the hill with Beacon Hill in tow. That’s the other guy.”

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.