Browse By

Executive Privilege: Danielle Allen Joins Still-Settling Gubernatorial Field…

Executive Privilege is an occasional series on gubernatorial elections in Massachusetts

Danielle Allen

Professor Danielle Allen in Springfield. (WMP&I)

SPRINGFIELD—The race for the Democratic nomination for governor grew a bit larger Tuesday as Harvard professor and nonprofit leader Danielle Allen joined the fray. In stops here and in Boston, Allen laid out her pitch with an emphasis on a more inclusive, fairer commonwealth. However, she enters an uncertain race with top contenders’ plans known but to God and maybe a few others.

Allen had launched an exploratory campaign in December. However, it had become evident she would land on a bid after six months of circling the runway. In her remarks and during a scrum with reporters afterward, Allen, who would be the first woman of color elected statewide, said her campaign sought to revive civic life and make Massachusetts a more equitable place for all.

“We call on the people of Massachusetts to reimagine ourselves as one Commonwealth in all diversity, working together to lay a foundation for one another to stand up in pride and call for the people of Massachusetts to embrace the agenda of strong, safe communities, healthy schools, and universal democracy,” she said.

Allen began her first day as an official candidate with an announcement on Boston Common, under the gaze of the State House. That location carried specific symbolism because of its proximity for the Shaw Memorial, which honors Civil War heroes Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who was white, and his all-Black 54th Regiment. Shaw died in battle in 1863.

“The men of the regiment were heroes. Robert Shaw was also a hero, but leadership should be open to everyone,” she said. “We were the first state to abolish enslavement that it has taken so long to get here is painful.”

In Springfield, Allen chose to announce her bid outside Dewey’s a new jazz lounge and restaurant downtown. She spoke outside with Dewey’s building looming. The wall now hosts a mural captioned “Black Lives Matter,” now one of many around the city honoring its diverse communities.

Allen enters the race for governor at an unsure moment as to the contest’s contours. So far, the only other official candidate with any fanfare is former Berkshire State Senator Downing. Downing welcomed her to the race in a tweet.

Boston State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz could enter, too. In the Democratic primary, the loudest unheard voice so far is that of Attorney General Maura Healey. Easily the biggest Democratic name in the state excluding federal officers, Healey, were she to run, would likely become an instant frontrunner.

Baker, ever looming…figuratively in this case… (via YouTube/Mass Governor’s office)

However, another factor is Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican. He has not said whether he would seek a relatively unprecedented third term. However, he is also probably the only GOP figure who could match Democratic firepower, should Dems channel energy into reclaiming the governorship.

Allen is the first woman of color to seek the governor’s office. The state does have a history of electing African-Americans statewide. The late Edward Brooke was elected to the US Senate in 1966. Far more recently, Deval Patrick served in the state’s corner office from 2007 to 2015. No woman has been elected governor, though Jane Swift essentially assumed the office in 2001 after Paul Cellucci took a Bush administration appointment. Over the last 30 years, women have had more success winning other statewide offices, such as US Senator Elizabeth Warren.

As Patrick and Warren had been, Allen is making her first bid for office. In her remarks, she cited the foundation her parents provided and noted the family history of political activism and involvement.

Speaking to reporters, Allen said the pandemic prompted her to seek office in her own right. The work she did during the early months of the pandemic led to conversations about her running.

“I just really couldn’t believe what I was watching around me from the sense of people not actually pitching in to build protection for all of us,” she said. Asked about what she learned about the 413’s needs, Allen cited several items. However, among them were the slowness of testing and iffy accessibility of vaccines early in the campaign to jab residents.

In addition to the regional pandemic issues, Allen said transportation, housing and regional equity were all issues locals raised. She also noted that many in Western Mass told her younger generations were not staying.

Don’t worry, she didn’t skip East-West rail. (via wikipedia)

“I heard from a lot of people about young people moving away, not staying in this part of the state, sometimes not staying in Massachusetts,” Allen said.

In terms of bringing the commonwealth together, Allen said a major problem is people are not talking to each other. Communities miss how they are similar and thus how they could learn from another. She cited alternative dispatching systems that Northampton and Brookline are pursuing. Neither knew the other was setting up such a system, denying them each a chance to share ideas.

In that same vein, Allen said there was a broader problem with people telling their stories. She cited the erosion of local journalism including in Western Mass.

As an academic, political theorist and Harvard professor, Allen has focused on democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought. In her remarks, she listed formative college courses, such as one on Athenian democracy. Ancient Athens, she noted, had no prisons. The society and politics of Greek Antiquity has also been a subject of her writing.