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Positioning himself a political outsider, Joseph Avellone is counting on his business background and moderate stance on fiscal issues to propel him from relative obscurity and into contention with higher-profile candidates in the 2014 race for governor.
"I'm not a typical politician," said Avellone, 65, a Democrat whose only previous elective office was selectman in his hometown of Wellesley. "I'm a person who's gotten results in the private sector."
After beginning his professional career as a surgeon, Avellone moved into health care administration, including three years as chief operating officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. He's currently a senior executive at Parexel International Corp., a Waltham-based biopharmaceutical research firm with nearly 15,000 employees in 50 countries.
His experience, he said in an interview, will prepare him to tackle what he calls the two biggest challenges facing state government: creating new jobs and controlling health care costs.
A recent Suffolk University/Boston Herald telephone poll of 600 Massachusetts voters found nearly three in four had never heard of Avellone, among five Democrats vying to succeed Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick. To even reach the September primary ballot, Avellone must secure at least 15 percent of the delegates to the Democratic state convention in June.
It's a formidable task given the likelihood that the two most prominent Democrats, Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steven Grossman, will together gobble up a major share of the delegates. That would leave Avellone and two other lesser-known candidates, Donald Berwick and Juliette Kayyem, to compete for the remaining share.
"I will be the viable alternative to the two Beacon Hill politicians on the Democratic side," Avellone predicted, expressing confidence that he would reach the 15 percent convention threshold.
Describing himself as a "pro-business, pro-growth" candidate, he said his campaign was gaining traction among more moderate middle-class voters. This past week he was endorsed by Worcester Mayor Joe Petty, who praised Avellone as the only candidate who had "created thousands of middle-class jobs and lowered health care costs."
Avellone, who served as a health care adviser to former Sen. Paul Tsongas' 1992 presidential campaign, said reducing health care expenses that consume nearly 40 percent of the state budget would allow greater investment in education and workforce development without new taxes.
He backs infrastructure upgrades, including expansion of commuter rail to the South Coast, but only through dedicated transportation revenues such as the gasoline tax and tolls, and not broad-based tax increases.
Avellone describes himself as socially liberal on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. While "not a big fan" of casinos, he said, he opposes repeal of the state's gambling law because of the job-generating potential of casinos.
He agrees with his Democratic rivals that the state's $8 per hour minimum wage should be increased and backs a Senate-passed bill - opposed by some business leaders - that would raise it to $11 over three years.
Avellone, who has made three loans to his campaign totaling $100,000, finished January with a campaign account balance of $142,000, according to state campaign finance records. While that was less than other Democratic hopefuls, he's confident he'll have the resources to compete at a time when voters are hungry for change.
"I don't think there is an appetite to do another lap around the track with politics as usual," he said. "This is a year that someone from the outside with new ideas...has a good chance."