LOWELL, Mass. — Speaking before several thousand Massachusetts Democrats at the state party’s annual convention here Saturday morning, state Treasurer Steve Grossman and Attorney General Martha Coakley tested competing messages ahead of a potential gubernatorial clash.
Grossman, who had all but declared for governor in the run up to the convention, left no doubt that he is in the race: saying the first bill he would file from the governor’s office will mandate paid family leave.
“I ask us to come together [for]…a cause whose time has come,” he said.
Coakley, who has floated her name for governor, offered only a tease. “I know there are a lot of people making announcements today,” she said. “I have one, too: tomorrow is my 60th birthday.”
That nugget came after a speech focused on Coakley’s record — with a special emphasis on her push to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to married same-sex couples.
“Goodbye DOMA,” she said, lauding the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down the law.
She wore a button bearing the “Goodbye DOMA” message, as did her supporters throughout the arena.
Coakley challenged the law in federal court in 2009. But the Supreme Court took up a different challenge. The attorney general filed a “friend of the court” brief in that case.
She said on the floor afterward that an announcement on a possible gubernatorial run would come “in good time.”
“I don’t have a definite timetable,” she said.
The convention marked a sort of unofficial start for the 2014 governor’s race.
With Gov. Deval Patrick set to leave his post at the end of next year, a growing field of Democrats is stepping forward to vie for his job.
State Sen. Dan Wolf, former Obama administration health care official Donald Berwick and biotechnology executive Joseph Avellone formally declared for governor in the days and weeks before the convention. All three had five-minute speaking slots at the close of the main session Saturday afternoon.
Berwick touted his work in the Obama administration and spoke of a belief in the power of government. Avellone pledged to curb growing health care costs which, he said, are squeezing budgets and other priorities in the state.
Wolf reprised themes from a Web video he released earlier in the week with the official launch of his campaign: emphasizing his experience as co-founder and CEO of Cape Air and pledging to take on income inequality.
Grossman, meeting with reporters earlier, offered a similar message. He spoke of his work as CEO of a family owned marketing business and said he would push for economic growth that includes the poorest pockets of the state. “Leadership that leaves no one behind” was his tagline.
Grossman said he would press, among other things, to expand vocational school infrastructure in a bid to boost manufacturing in the state.
The paid family leave legislation Grossman trumpeted in his formal remarks has been kicking around the state Legislature since 2006. The bill would require companies with more than 10 employees to offer seven paid sick days.
The measure, which has died in the face of business opposition in the past, is starting to gain steam now. But if it hasn’t become law by the time he takes the governor’s office, Grossman said, it will be the first bill he introduces.
The state’s political bandwidth was consumed this spring with the race to succeed U.S. Sen. John Kerry. And now, attention is shifting to the first competitive Boston mayoral race in a generation.
But if gubernatorial candidates will have trouble breaking through in the coming months, all eyes were on the governor’s race Saturday.