Steve Grossman wanted to talk about his immigrant grandfather and the American Dream. I wanted him to do a party trick.
I feel bad about that. I know there is more to the gubernatorial candidate than his obsession with ice cream. Though, to be fair, the Treasurer, well aware and even kind of funny about his own charisma deficit, has pushed the frozen dairy gimmick pretty hard.
I understand, too, that I shouldn’t gawk at his spooky recall of every obscure byway in the state, and all eleventy thousand of its local officials. But I wanted to see it for myself. The plan was, I would name random towns, and he’d tell me everything he knew about them.
But Grossman is a pretty single-minded guy, and he has his own story to tell. And so there we stood, on the corner of Chelsea and Marion streets in East Boston on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon, talking about Max Grossman’s arrival here over a century ago.
Just then, Maria Gallotto opened her door to put out some trash. “I know you,” she said. Grossman is pretty sure his grandfather lived in Gallotto’s home as a kid. Seventeen years ago, Grossman was here, with his parents and the mayor, to see the corner dedicated to Max Grossman. Gallotto had invited them all in for coffee. Last week, she did it again.
Sitting at the table in Gallotto’s spotless kitchen, the two, both 68, talked about immigrant parents sacrificing for their kids, and their grandchildren. One of Gallotto’s children lives in Middleton. “Where Richardson’s Ice Cream is,” Grossman said.
They were both married in the same year, 1969. “Life is made up of coincidences,” Grossman said, taking his wedding picture from his wallet and sliding it across the table.
Gallotto then wanted to talk about the $10 trash ticket she got recently; Grossman had something else on his mind.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said. “What is the most important thing you want me to work on?”
The high cost of health care, Gallotto said, and college tuition. Her 16-year-old grandson is working two jobs to save, she said. His father works at the East Boston Savings Bank.
“So, the East Boston Savings Bank,” the ever-on-message Grossman said, launching into an explanation of how he brought a lot of the state’s money back from overseas banks and put it in local ones.
The visit proceeded this way, with Grossman mostly talking and Gallotto mostly listening. He didn’t connect, as other candidates might, with warmth and empathy. Instead, he was, as always, relentlessly — exhaustingly — earnest. Spend a little time with him and he impresses; it’s clear he knows a lot about a lot. This is a guy who cannot be stumped, not just on where to find ice cream in Dracut or the name of Nahant’s Democratic Party chair, but also on early education, Gateway Cities, and the economy. But you also see why he needs the ice cream thing to sweeten the pitch.
Still, it worked, or at least it was enough for Gallotto. “I pray to God you become governor,” she said as he was leaving.
Grossman will need those prayers. He called in the many chits he has built up over decades as a Democratic insider for a resounding win at the convention. But he hasn’t made much of a dent outside the party, trailing Attorney General Martha Coakley by 36 points in the latest Globe poll. His best hope appears to be the implosion of her candidacy. Stranger things have happened.
If it doesn’t, he’ll at least have had the campaign, where he said “something extraordinary happens virtually every day. How on earth would I ever have had an opportunity on a beautiful summer afternoon to have Maria open her door?”
“These experiences make you very humble,” he said. “[They give] you a sense of oneness.”
After that disarming revelation, I felt extra guilty about giving Grossman the quiz.
He aced it.Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org