At first glance, Eric Grossman ’88 may seem like just another man in a power suit working at an investment bank in Manhattan. As the chief legal officer at Morgan Stanley, Grossman commutes from the New York suburbs, where he lives with his family. But here’s the twist: He wants to overturn a long-standing American tradition — the two-party political system.
It all started after the 2016 presidential election — Nov. 30 to be exact — with a call to Peter Groome ’90, a longtime friend and co-founder of Fathom Communications. “I remember distinctly asking him why he wanted to talk to me about it, as I wasn’t terribly politically active at the time,” Groome said. “Eric told me, ‘If I’m going to do this, I need someone I know, someone I can trust, and someone who can bring some communications expertise to the table.’”
Both Grossman and Groome were frustrated by the lack of energy in the political landscape — they recognized the need to take action instead of sitting on the sidelines. After many conversations, endless networking, and hours of strategizing, an idea started to take shape. “We were basically creating a startup,” Grossman said. “We talked to a ton of people, we recruited people who were interested in joining us, we raised money to build the actual organization, we put together a team, and then we laid out a strategy — everything you do when you’re starting a new business.”
In April of 2017, the Serve America Movement was officially born. With the tagline “a new party for a new majority,” SAM is a political party running on a core conviction to bridge the growing political divide in America through civil dialogue and finding common ground. Almost exactly two years to the day after that initial phone call, SAM scored a big victory in New York State. It managed to get a gubernatorial candidate, former Syracuse, N.Y., Mayor Stephanie Miner, on the ballot in November. Miner didn’t come close to winning, but she drew enough votes to secure the party an automatic ballot line for any election in the state for the next four years.
That was the outcome Grossman and Groome had hoped for. The eventual endgame is to have SAM candidates represented on the ballot in all 50 states, and they are convinced the time is right for a third party to take root.
“The traditional parties have become tribal — animated as much by their dislike of the other party as what they actually stand for,” Grossman said. “Their candidates are representative of the most extreme wings of each party, and neither seems to be focused on problem solving. A new party, unburdened by the need to cater to the dominant primary voters, would be the most representative of what the American people want.”
As vice chairman, Grossman presides over board meetings and is involved in recruiting and fundraising. “For lack of a better term, I’m spreading the gospel,” he said. Groome is also a member of the board and acts as the driving force behind SAM’s marketing and branding.
Although SAM might be classified as moderate or centrist, Groome argues that labels can render the movement meaningless: opposing the two dominant parties might be mistaken as standing for nothing. “For us, one of the foundational ideas of SAM was to challenge the status quo, to step in and disrupt the system and provide an alternative that was ultimately much closer to the interests of a growing number of people looking for a new political option.”
While SAM’s arrival onto the political scene is a step forward, its real challenge has only begun. SAM’s most daunting task — and its most promising opportunity — is to translate ideas into political reality. “The two parties have constructed a system that makes it very hard for new parties to get ballot access and voter traction,” Grossman said.
“You get used to hearing ‘You’re nuts,’” Groome said. “A lot of people responded that it’s too ambitious, too much of a long shot.”
Facing off against the dominant two-party system is no easy feat, but Groome hopes that SAM will be a part of a greater political realignment. “There’s a wave of energy running through the country,” he said. “People want to do something different, and they’re recognizing that the system is broken. They’re tired of that kind of discourse, those extremes, and looking for some common ground, civility, and respect.”
Common ground is the undercurrent to most of SAM’s success, including Miner’s gubernatorial campaign. Although Miner is a Democrat, she chose Michael Volpe, a Republican, as her running mate.
“We don’t expect everyone to have the same political alignment,” Grossman said. “Common ground is what SAM is all about — not adhering to any party or legacy but coming together to have a reasonable discussion. We’re trying to show how the system can be better. It’s generating interest and traction only because people are starved for the kind of discussion, debate, and compromise that will move us forward as a country and as a people.”
Julia Dupuis ’21 is a creative writing major from Mission Viejo, Calif., whose pursuits include writing for the Hamilton Communications Office and tutoring at the Writing Center.