Profiling Steve Grossman, former national chairman of DNC

We profile Steve Grossman, former national chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and former chairman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. This week he launches the D.C. office of his multi-million-dollar family-owned communications-marketing company, the Grossman Marketing Group (GMG). Grossman, 61, lives with his wife, Barbara, and three children in Boston.

As former national chairman of the DNC, you are now opening up your firm in Washington. Does this coincide with the presidential election?

It’s just a coincidence that I happen to be deeply involved with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but I have long thought of moving the company to Washington.

And how deeply are you involved in Clinton’s campaign?
Pretty involved. I have known the Clintons for 20 years. I was chosen by the president to be chair in ’96. I’m involved in fundraising and helping out on Middle East policy as well.

In 2000, the Boston Phoenix began an article on you with the phrase “Who is Steve Grossman?” In addition, the DNC created a joking video on you with the same theme. Has your name ID improved since the late ’90s?

Well, I don’t think my name ID is good enough to get elected governor of Massachusetts. I certainly found that out in 2002. But I have a lot of friends in Washington and almost 500 are coming out for our launch party tonight.

Any regrets about running for governor of Massachusetts?

No, I loved it. I wished I had done better, but when you get an opportunity to travel all over the state and establish a real relationship with countless people at every level of society, it was an extraordinary experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

You were formerly a huge supporter of Howard Dean. Is there tension between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Dean?

Not that I know of. I was just in Washington and had dinner with Howard and many former chairs. We were talking about his 50-state plan. I have never seen any tension between Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton.

Do you speak with him often?  Howard?

Yeah, pretty often. We have stayed very close friends since I chaired his campaign in 2004.

What did you think of his famous scream?

I was actually in Florida in my mother’s apartment when I heard it. The next morning I had to be at an editorial board meeting at the Miami Herald. Can you imagine walking into that board meeting the morning after that scream? It was an out-of-body experience. I knew that we were in deep trouble when we saw it on TV sitting in my mother’s living room in Palm Beach, Fla.

Do you give him a hard time about it now?

No, absolutely not.

Moving on, how much money will you give to Hillary — the max?
My wife and I have already given the max to Hillary’s campaign. We just had a fundraiser in Boston and raised almost a million and a half.

Do you thinks she’s appreciative?
She always has been. Hillary and I have a wonderful relationship that goes back about 20 years. She has been unfailingly kind and gracious. When my father passed away back in 1999, both the president and Hillary could not have been more supportive and kind.

This week you plan to rub elbows at your launch party with the likes of Ann Lewis, Joe Lockhart, Don Fowler and Tom Daschle. Is that your usual crowd when you come to Washington?

I know them all well, but frankly, if you gave me my choice these days I’d rather, as you put it, rub elbows with people who have the desire to buy marketing products from my company.

What do you think is wrong with Barack Obama’s candidacy?

Barack Obama is a distinguished candidate. He will be a formidable candidate and a formidable opponent for Senator Clinton. I’m all for a vigorous primary campaign.

So you don’t think there’s anything wrong with his campaign?

No, he’s an outstanding man, but I think Hillary’s the best candidate because the biggest unfinished agenda in this country is the American family. It has been on hold since Newt Gingrich [became Speaker] in 1994.

Is there anything you find particularly loathsome about Washington?

Loathsome is a pretty strong word.

Well, it’s not a soft and cushy place.

What I find most objectionable about Washington is that we don’t have a Democrat in the White House. I would not go so far as to say loathsome. I hate using language that is too polarizing.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) once said you are more thoughtful about public policy than most fundraisers. Was he just being kind?
Well, I am honored that Barney would say that because Barney is not known for throwing bouquets. So I will let Barney’s words speak for themselves and appreciate his kindness.

You’re a wealthy man. What do you like to spend your money on: trips, clothing, family or all of the above?

Well, I probably spend more money on philanthropy than anything else. There’s a wonderful phrase in the Bible in Isaiah where Isaiah says, “And you shall be known as the rebuilder of ancient walls, the restorer of dwelling places, the repairer of the breach.” I’ve always seen the money that our family has earned as repairing the breach and repairing the world that is in desperate need of fixing.

OK, but when you do buy a suit, where do you go?  

In New York, Bergdorf men’s. Like everybody, I like going shopping every once in a while. Tomorrow I’m going with my son to buy a tuxedo. I love neckties. I love bright neckties. The night I stepped down as chair of the DNC, I sat with the president. I said, “You want the good news or the bad news?” He said, “The good news.” I said, “I bought you a necktie.” I bought him a Zegna yellow tie. I saw him on TV when he went to the Middle East to sign peace agreements. He was wearing the tie.

That is pretty incredible.

I said to my wife, “Honey, you have to come see the tie!”

You’re a Princeton graduate with a degree in Romance languages. What do you speak other than English?

Just French. I learned French fluently many many years ago. And I still know a few words of Yiddish.

Getting back to your new venture here, did your father, Edgar Grossman, in the business for 60 years, give you any pearls of wisdom about succeeding?

He said, “You were born with one mouth and two ears, try to use them in that proportion.”