Harvard professor Danielle Allen officially entered the Massachusetts governor’s race Tuesday, calling for a radical strengthening of social bonds in the Commonwealth and asserting that, during COVID-19, “the powerful plainly abandoned the powerless.”
“As a society, we couldn’t muster the will the resources to protect all of our selves, together,” said Allen, who is seeking the Democratic nomination. “Our institutions failed us because as a society, we don’t hold the belief that we’re all in it together.
“Whether we’ve lost that belief or never had it doesn’t matter,” she added. “We’re in a bad way.”
Allen, who would become the first woman elected governor of Massachusetts and country’s first Black female governor if she wins, announced her candidacy at the 54th Regiment Memorial on Boston Common, which honors one of the first Black regiments to fight in the Civil War.
“I stand here today, on the 241st anniversary of our state’s constitution, as the first African American woman to run for governor in our state’s history,” Allen said.
“Both the men of the regiment and Robert Shaw” — the regiment’s white leader — “were heroes,” Allen added. “But leadership should be open to all.
“This was the first state to abolish enslavement, and it has taken us this long to get to this day. It’s time to accelerate the pace of change.”
While Allen has never held elected office, she brings an impressive resume to the campaign. She directs Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and has written extensively on both ancient political philosophy and contemporary U.S. society, including how to respond to the manifold challenges posed by COVID-19.
In 2001, she was the recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. She was also a contributing columnist at the Washington Post before she began exploring a run for governor late last year, and chaired the board of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for four years.
But unlike U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who successfully moved from academia to electoral politics in 2012, Allen has not been an active participant in the partisan fray.
Warren was elected after pushing successfully for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a campaign that helped make her a progressive darling.
Allen, in contrast, took a nonpartisan approach in her recent work on COVID-19. She led a multidisciplinary effort at Harvard to create a roadmap for reopening the country last year; joined members of both parties in the Covid Collaborative; and co-wrote the Suppress COVID Act with Senators Tina Smith (D-Minnesota) and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana).
As she seeks the Democratic nomination for governor, Allen’s success may hinge, in part, on how the party’s base responds to her measured, conciliatory approach to our current political moment.
In a January 2020 Post column, for example, she suggested that Republicans standing by then-President Trump during his first impeachment might be "genuinely aggrieved by the onslaught from Democrats and the left since the first day of Trump’s presidency,” and expressed "sympathy" for that motivation.
"That feeling of aggrievement, however legitimate it may be, may also be something for Republicans to overcome," Allen wrote, adding: "the Democrats aren’t exactly unsullied knights in white armor rushing to the defense of the truth."
Allen joins former Democratic state Senator Ben Downing as one of two officially declared candidates. Attorney General Maura Healey and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz are also thought to be considering Democratic bids.
Gov. Charlie Baker, the Republican incumbent, has yet to say if he intends to seek a third term.
In the latter portion of her kickoff speech, Allen identified housing, transportation, schools, jobs, and justice as five areas she’ll prioritize if elected, calling them “the pieces of a livable life.” But the dominant takeaway from her remarks was her conviction that Massachusetts is in dire need of a thoroughgoing civic revival.
“Democracy isn’t something to be studied,” Allen said at one point. “Democracy is something to do. Democracy is a call to action.”