After decades as a largely behind-the-scenes Democratic power broker, Steven Grossman gained his first personal political victory in 2010 when he was elected Massachusetts treasurer. Four years later, the Newton resident is banking on liberal values, deep party ties and fundraising prowess to propel him into the governor's office.
The onetime Democratic National Committee chairman is among five Democrats, two Republicans and three independents vying to succeed outgoing Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick. Were the outcome to hinge largely on money, Grossman would be well positioned: Campaign finance records showed a balance of more than $1 million in his campaign account at the end of February, nearly twice that of any other candidate.
Yet Grossman, despite his high-profile party activism and term as state treasurer, seemingly has yet to emerge as a well-known commodity among the electorate. A Suffolk University poll of 600 likely voters taken Jan. 29 to Feb. 3 showed that more than a third of respondents remained unfamiliar with Grossman, and among Democratic hopefuls, he trailed well behind Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose visibility among voters was higher.
It's a gap he feels confident he can overcome before the Sept. 9 primary.
"I think we have all noticed with a few exceptions that turnout in primaries has been pretty low, so there is a huge premium in building a team of organizers, people who believe passionately in the ideas that you're espousing, who believe that you can actually implement those ideas," Grossman said in a recent interview.
Grossman, 68, joined his family's business, Massachusetts Envelope Co. (now Grossman Marketing Group), soon after earning his MBA from Harvard in 1969. He led the company until his election as state treasurer and holds a nearly 50 percent share of the firm.
He headed the Massachusetts Democratic Party in 1991-92 and chaired the national party from 1997 to 1999 during Bill Clinton's presidency.
Grossman recalls once asking Clinton about the fundamental role of the presidency.
"He looked at me very simply and (said), `Steve, as president, I'm in the solutions business. And I think that's a pretty good way of looking at the role of governor," Grossman said.
A potential risk for Grossman, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002, is that voters may perceive him as a cozy party insider unwilling to challenge fellow Democrats. In recent weeks in his campaign, he's taken a more aggressive tact toward Coakley and has also questioned Patrick's decision not to accept the resignation of the commissioner of the state's child welfare agency, under scrutiny since the disappearance of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy.
Grossman views income inequality as a central challenge facing Massachusetts. To that end, he favors a higher minimum wage, earned sick time for all workers and allowing immigrants in the country illegally to apply for driver's licenses and in-state college tuition.
He's also called for more spending in areas such as prekindergarten education, community colleges and behavioral health treatment and, if necessary, would not shy away from new taxes to fund such investments.
"I am in no way, shape or form going to rule out raising revenue at some point," said Grossman, adding that he'd look to higher taxes only if other options have been exhausted and in conjunction with other measures such as increased exemptions for lower-income families.
Grossman casts himself as a fiscally responsible, pro-business Democrat who would make job growth a priority.
As treasurer, he cites as major accomplishments the state's continued strong bond rating and healthy reserve fund. He touts his strategy of depositing more of the state's money into smaller community banks - funds that in turn can be invested in local small businesses. He also says his move to put the state's checkbook online has improved transparency.