JEWISH MALE, AGE 55, IVY LEAGUE GRAD, SEEKS TO RETAKE THE MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNORíS OFFICE FOR THE DEMOCRATS BY LEVERAGING CLOSE TIES TO BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY AND FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON. CANDIDATE HOPES STRONG BACKGROUND IN ECONOMIC GROWTH WILL BOOST "OUTSIDER IMAGE" IN YEAR OF ECONOMIC DISTRESS. Sounds like a personal ad placed by Robert Reich, former secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, doesnít it? But the same description fits Steve Grossman, also age 55, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) during Clintonís second term.
The similarities between the two candidates havenít gone unnoticed. In addition to everything else, Reich and Grossman will compete to be the candidate most closely associated with Clintonís positive achievements. If the former president does take a stand in the Massachusetts governorís race, he will most likely endorse either Grossman or Reich ó the two candidates with whom the former president has worked. (The Grossman people say it will be Grossman. But in a January 1 story, Boston Herald reporter David Guarino reported that Reich had recently telephoned Clinton to convince him to remain neutral in the governorís race.)
In truth, Reichís entry into the Democratic gubernatorial primary (which he was expected to announce on Wednesday morning after the Phoenix went to press) is bad news for all five candidates: Grossman, Senate president Tom Birmingham, Secretary of State William Galvin, State Treasurer Shannon OíBrien, and former Watertown state senator Warren Tolman. The former US secretary of labor has widespread name recognition, and despite his having yet to campaign, polls show that Reich has already vaulted to the top of the field. His pro-labor credentials could hurt Birmingham, in particular, who hopes to garner union support. And his pro-reform agenda could hurt Tolman, whoís running as a Clean Elections candidate. Reich affects Galvin by being a prominent figure in a race where the secretary of state has yet to register with the public. He hurts OíBrien the least ó sheíd still be the only woman in the Democratic field. But Reich allies say new poll numbers suggest his national celebrity is having an impact even on her.
But in the end, itís Grossman who apparently has the most to lose from Reichís candidacy. "Reichís electric," says one prominent Grossman supporter, asking to remain anonymous. "Heís quotable. Heís funny. Heís national. And heís not risk-averse. That makes him the wild card if not the joker in the deck." He adds, "Itís many of the same bucks. Itís many of the same people. And more importantly, it prevents Steve from being the moderate, centrist Clinton Democrat. I donít think thereís enough space across the spectrum for both these guys."
Indeed, the similarities between the two candidates threaten to undo them both. No Jewish politician, after all, has ever run for ó let alone won ó the governorship of Massachusetts, a state where ethnicity helps only if youíre Irish (a Democrat) or Italian (a Republican). And neither manís relationship with Brandeis University helps him in that regard. Reich is a professor at Brandeis; until recently, Grossman served as chair of Brandeisís board. The fact that both are Jewish and have ties to the Clinton administration means they share overlapping networks of friends and acquaintances ó the kinds of networks both need to fuel a gubernatorial run.
Besides, both men are vying for the "reformer" label former governor Michael Dukakis rode into the governorís office in 1974 and 1982. (Tolman, for his part, is attempting to do the same thing, but his success hinges on the case he filed against the state legislature to force the body to fund the Clean Elections system, on which his campaign rests both financially and in principle.) Grossman, who entered political life as a fundraiser for Dukakisís gubernatorial bids, has modeled his candidacy on that of the former governor ó especially with regard to grassroots organizing. Yet many of the same prospective members of Grossmanís grassroots coalition ó young activists, voters from the forgotten state periphery, reformers seeking change ó will also be targets of Reichís campaign effort. Both candidates pepper their speech and writing with references to Dukakisoid rhetoric and programs. Take this line, for example, tossed off by Reich during a recent interview at his Brattle Street home: "Community colleges are the unsung heroes of the working middle class, and weíve got to link them up with people who need skills." It sounds a lot like something Grossman wrote for a Boston Business Journal op-ed in November 1999: "Incentives should be provided to community colleges, for example, to create partnerships with local businesses that tailor course offerings and certificate programs to their needs."
Both Reich and Grossman, however, refuse to acknowledge that either manís presence in the race hurts the other. (State Senators Brian Joyce and Cheryl Jacques did the same thing last year when each sought the "progressive" mantle in the Democratic primary in the Ninth Congressional District; they split progressive support, and South Boston senator Stephen Lynch rode that dynamic to victory.) Unsurprisingly, each campaign goes out of its way to stress the differences between the candidates. "Steve is really the only one who still lives in the real world, works in the real world, comes from the real world," says Grossman spokeswoman Alex Zaroulis, referring to Grossmanís 27 years of running the MassEnvelopePlus company, in Somerville. "Steve has created hundreds of actual, real-world jobs in Massachusetts. I donít know that being a cabinet secretary constitutes being a member of the real world."
Reich, likewise, rejects the notion that his résumé has much in common with Grossmanís. "I think weíre very different people," he says. "People are ready to hear a message about economic growth and are fed up with whatís going on in Beacon Hill. Theyíre ready for some real leadership." Reich believes that the points of resemblance between him and Grossman are superficial, and that his work in the cabinet and as a professor will distinguish him. And if not, he says, so what? "That Iím Jewish and four-foot-ten-and-a-half inches tall. That Iím a professor and a liberal Democrat. All of these labels that people have. Theyíll put me where they want to put me."