Steven Grossman remembers vividly the meeting at John F. Kerry's Beacon Hill manse last November, when he broke the news that he was backing Howard Dean's presidential campaign.
"I think he was dumbfounded," said Grossman, who cochaired the senator's 1996 reelection effort against William F. Weld. "I don't think he understood why, after all these years, I was not going to support him."
Kerry might have also been slack-jawed because at the time, Dean was a flyspeck on the political map, and Kerry was almost the presumptive front-runner in a crowded Democratic field.
That all changed as Dean surged to the lead in fund-raising and polls in early voting states. "I know what it is to be a long shot; I was one myself," Grossman said, referring to his failed campaign last year for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
But one thing hasn't changed. Grossman, the former national and state party chairman, remains the only major Democratic figure in Massachusetts openly promoting one of Kerry's rivals. As Dean's national cochairman, he is a major fund-raiser and a bridge to influential party figures he worked with as chairman of the Democratic National Committee in the late 1990s.
By Dean's own account, the Newton businessman, activist, and philanthropist was the first national Democratic leader to support him. Grossman said his allegiance to the out-of-stater is less about Kerry, whom he has never publicly criticized, than it is about Dean.
"I believe in Howard," said Grossman, who has known Dean since 1992 when Grossman chaired the Massachusetts Democratic Party. "I observed how he handled himself during the civil unions battle back in 2000. In my 33 years in politics, rarely have I seen a politician willing to put his career on the line and potentially end his career for a matter of principle."
Dean, then governor, signed the bill that made Vermont the only state to extend legal partners' rights to same-sex couples.
Grossman's support of Dean not only divides him from the Bay State's Democratic political establishment, it separates him within his own family, which for three generations has been active in state and national Democratic circles. His uncle, Jerome Grossman, a legendary peace activist, self-styled "relentless liberal," and longtime Kerry stalwart, has been raising money for Kerry.
"I don't second-guess Steven," said Jerome Grossman, still relentless at 86. The elder Grossman, who sold to Steven his interest in the family business, MassEnvelopePlus, in 1975, considers Kerry "the intellectual and political class" of the nine-candidate field vying to challenge President Bush.
Steven Grossman is juggling responsibilities as CEO of the business while devoting about 30 hours a week to Dean in order to keep a promise to his mother, Shirley Grossman. During his gubernatorial quest, Grossman was often away from work. When his mother learned that Dean was wooing him, mother told son: "You can't become chairman of anything until you get this business back in shape."
"My mother's still the boss in the family," Grossman said. So he told Dean he would compromise and become cochairman. There are no other cochairmen of the Dean campaign.