Harvard professor Danielle Allen exploring run for governor
Democrat is focused on addressing societal inequities
DANIELLE ALLEN, an acclaimed Harvard political theorist whose research has focused on ideas of citizenship and justice in ancient Greece and modern America, is making the leap to political practice by launching an exploratory run for governor.
Allen, the director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, is eyeing a Democratic run for governor in 2022 with a focus on addressing societal inequities.
The 49-year-old Cambridge resident formed an exploratory committee with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance on Monday, becoming the first candidate to make such a move for an election that is still nearly two years away.
In an interview, Allen said the combination of the pandemic, national polarization, and issues related to race and policing “just brought me to a point where I personally can’t wait any longer to have the conversations we collectively need to have about the Commonwealth we want to be together.”
Gov. Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican who has enjoyed broad approval from voters in state that generally leans heavily Democratic, has not yet said whether he will seek a third term in 2022.
At a moment of a national reckoning on race and racism, Allen is a black woman whose great-grandparents fought for women’s suffrage and whose grandfather helped found an NAACP chapter in Florida, according to her campaign website. Her white mother and black father married in California in the 1960s, where Allen grew up.
During the pandemic, Allen used her position at the Safra Center to convene a group of economists, public health experts, ethicists, and others to draft a comprehensive plan, the Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience, for reopening the economy amid COVID-19. The plan called for a massive scale-up of testing and contact tracing capabilities, and some of its proposals have been adopted in President-elect Joe Biden’s response plan.
Allen now says it is “painful to watch” how those on top of the economy can ride out the pandemic by telecommuting with little virus exposure, while essential workers struggle with inadequate personal protective equipment. “There’s a real feeling of a tale of two Commonwealths, and we can’t go on that way,” Allen said. She said an equitable recovery will involve achieving a “fair and flourishing economy” with a focus on creating good quality jobs.
Allen, in her video, focuses on issues of inequality plaguing Massachusetts –– income and wealth inequality, food insecurity, inequity in school opportunity, and climate issues. “We all have a role to play in putting our society back on a track that really distributes opportunity fairly, and if our elected officers are not delivering that, then we have to make a change,” she says.
If elected, Allen said in an interview that her top issues will include criminal justice reform and securing alternatives to incarceration; health care issues like addressing substance use disorder, building up the public health infrastructure, and lowering costs; and maintaining initiatives like early voting and mail-in voting that increased participation in democracy during the pandemic.
In her campaign video, Allen tears up as she talks about her cousin Michael, who was arrested at age 15 for carjacking, and the impact mass incarceration has on families. Allen said in an interview that Michael’s death in 2009 was devastating to her. Michael went to prison for 11 years, then was killed three years later by someone he met in prison. “The shock also showed me how badly as a society we’re failing young people, and increased my sense of urgency about the need for change,” Allen said.
Allen earned degrees from Princeton University and the University of Cambridge, then moved to Massachusetts in 1996 to get a PhD in government from Harvard. She taught at the University of Chicago and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, before moving back to Massachusetts in 2015 for a position at Harvard, where she is now a university professor in addition to leading the Center for Ethics. She also spent a decade of the board of trustees of Amherst College.
Allen said another impetus for her run was the shock she felt after the 2016 election as she saw President Trump “erode democratic norms.” Allen said she feels the need to “restore values of democracy in the public sphere,” such as trustworthiness and truth.
On several issues, including whether the state needs to raise taxes and how she would approach improving education, Allen declined to offer specifics but said she is embarking on a listening tour to learn about ideas from around the state.
Asked about the job Baker is doing, Allen declined to criticize his performance but said she believes democracies are stronger when elections are competitive and “Massachusetts is ready for a new voice in this election.”Allen hired as her campaign manager Reynolds Graves, a vice president at national communications firm SKDKnickerbocker and former lobbyist at Rasky Partners. Graves has worked as government relations director for Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, deputy chief of staff for Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, assistant director of personnel for Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, and field director for Baker’s 2014 campaign. Allen’s campaign chairman is former Harvard Business School professor Malcolm Salter.
Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, is widely speculated to be considering a 2022 run for governor. On the Republican side, if Baker doesn’t seek another term, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito is a likely contender. Politico reported that former Republican state representative Geoff Diehl is also considering a run.