The race for state treasurer is taking place amid a flurry of ham and cheese sandwiches, colorful dragon dances, and the sizzling of Italian sausages on a blistering summer afternoon. As three Democratic candidates exchange hugs and handshakes with voters at events around the state, they try to keep their introductions short.
“I’m Tom Conroy, and I’m hoping to get your vote Sept. 9.”
“Barry Finegold, I’m a Democrat running for state treasurer.”
“Hi there, I’m Deb.”
The brief introductions are fitting in a race where many voters do not know the candidates by name or face. As they campaign for support in an arena less visible than, say, the governor’s race, the candidates know they have only a minute or two to make an impression. But when the conversation starts, the importance of the office is almost never questioned.
In the few weeks remaining before the Sept. 9 primary, Democratic candidates Tom Conroy, 52, Barry Finegold, 43, and Deborah Goldberg, 60, will make their closing arguments in their bids to succeed Treasurer Steve Grossman, who is running for governor.
As the state’s chief financial officer, the treasurer oversees offices including the unclaimed property division, the lottery commission, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, and others, in addition to chairing the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The candidates are also discussing financial literacy, state investment in local banks, student loans, and wage equality.
On those issues and others, the candidates share many of the same values. But they bring varying sets of public and private sector experience.
Finegold is a state senator from Andover now in his second term. He founded the law firm Dalton & Finegold at age 29, and works as a partner specializing in real estate, estate planning, and corporate law. He lives in Andover with his wife, Amy, and three children.
Goldberg, who came in second in the 2006 Democratic lieutenant governor’s primary, is a former chairwoman of the Brookline Board of Selectmen. Her family built Stop & Shop from a small grocery store into a regional chain before it was taken over by a private equity firm in the late 1980s. She had been groomed to one day take over as CEO.
Conroy is a former financial manager who has served as state representative for Wayland, Sudbury, and parts of Framingham and Marlborough since 2007. He is a father or four — including college-aged triplets. His wife, Sarah Sewall, serves as undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights in the State Department.
Campaign finance reports showed Goldberg finished July with a balance of about $54,000, while Conroy finished the month with about $59,000. Finegold had more than $593,000 in his campaign coffers.
In early August, Goldberg contributed $557,000 to her own campaign, along with a $175,000 loan.
At an early August picnic for senior citizens in Somerville, Goldberg angled down the long row of picnic tables, shaking hands, hugging supporters, and often striking up a short conversation. She’s worried about the team, she said to a man in a Red Sox shirt. Those are my style, she told a woman in rainbow-patterned sunglasses.
When an older gentleman asked whether she is married, she was quick to respond: “Let’s start with the vote, then we’ll talk.”
Goldberg says she will be an activist who will create a statewide financial literacy program and a college savings program, and will champion diversity as state treasurer.
“It is an executive who also need to bring their values to that table,” she said. “My values of what I’ve done already in my life and what I plan to do reflects our universal values as progressives and Democrats.”
Later in the week, at Chinatown’s August Moon Festival, Conroy discussed with a vendor the nuances of Chinese and Thai cuisine and remarked on the difficulty of acquiring some ingredients in the United States. Conroy once managed resettlement programs for the State Department, working in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar to help refugees find homes in the United States.
He is a self-proclaimed “math-whiz” who says he stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning crunching numbers for a 2008 cost analysis of casinos, which he said proved they were not a worthwhile initiative for Massachusetts. He says his experience in the financial sector, rather than politics, makes him uniquely suited to be treasurer. He will push for universal pre-kindergarten education, reducing student debt, and investing in local banks.
“We can invest in local business and grow those businesses,” Conroy said. “I have an opportunity to basically serve as my own boss. I have been part of the institution of the Legislature, but I have not been part of its culture.”
Finegold spent last Saturday interacting with locals vendors at the annual St. Rocco’s feast in Malden. He joked with a group of high school football players, recalling his days as a defensive lineman in Andover. Coaches allowed much smaller bodies onto the field back then, he said.
“They’d run me off the field,” he said of today’s players.
Many at the street festival recognized Finegold, if not by face, then by name. He served in the Massachusetts House for 14 years, after being elected as the youngest member of his freshman class in 1996. Nearly two decades later, the candidate bills himself as a small business owner who earned “every dime he ever had to make.” He said seeing then-Governor Bill Clinton speak at the 1992 Democratic National Convention was a formative experience for his political career.
Finegold says he is a fierce opponent of casino gambling. He has pushed for pension reform and says he will rely on experience as he makes his case to voters.
“I have this experience of understanding the challenges of so many communities, and I think that’s something that clearly differentiates me from the rest of the campaigns,” he said. “I have a history of being independent, and doing what is right.”
Finegold is not alone in trying to find separation. All three candidates say their experiences in various capacities have prepared them for the role of treasurer. Other announced candidates include Republican Mike Heffernan and Green-Rainbow candidate Ian T. Jackson.
“You’ve got three qualified people running,” said Grossman, the outgoing treasurer. “Three people who have laid out their own respective vision for what they see the office can accomplish.”
Grossman said communication is key in the race, as the candidates try to make themselves visible to voters in the coming weeks.
“One of the biggest challenges,” he said, “is how you communicate to the people of the state that what we do at the treasury is linked to quality of life.”
Faiz Siddiqui can be reached at email@example.com.