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In launching gubernatorial bid, Danielle Allen says Democrats have ‘settled for too little’ under Baker

Danielle Allen gestured to the crowd as she formally announced her gubernatorial campaign on the Boston Common.
Danielle Allen gestured to the crowd as she formally announced her gubernatorial campaign on the Boston Common.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Painting her candidacy in lofty, populist tones, Harvard professor Danielle Allen launched a campaign for Massachusetts governor Tuesday, saying some Democrats have “settled for too little” under the Republican incumbent. And with it, a primary began.

Allen’s entrance made official a fledgling intraparty race in which she, former state Senator Ben Downing, and undoubtedly others will spend the coming months pressure-testing arguments for their own candidacy with party activists.

But they will also have to articulate a wider argument for why they believe the state should move on from Governor Charlie Baker, an obvious but also difficult pitch, given Baker’s popularity. Also, none of them know if Baker will even choose to run in November 2022.

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Baker has not made a decision on whether he’ll seek a third term, advisers say, a choice that could have wide ramifications for how the Democratic field comes together. And what issues might prove the most potent weapons against Baker for Democrats and their gubernatorial hopefuls remains unclear, continuing a six-year trend in which critics failed to meaningfully pierce Baker’s political armor in the eyes of the wider public.

Allen on Tuesday offered Democrats an indication of how she would.

The 49-year-old enters the field as the first Black woman to run for governor as part of a major party in state history, bringing years of experience in academia and the nonprofit world into what will be her first run for public office.

The California native and Cambridge Democrat settled in Massachusetts in 2015 after being hired to lead Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. She cited “precedent” of others who won major offices in Massachusetts without being elected before — former Governor Deval Patrick and Senator Elizabeth Warren, though both had experience in navigating Washington, D.C., and in the hand-to-hand political combat that defines it before launching their own political runs.

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Standing with three dozen supporters on the Boston Common alongside the Massachusetts 54th Regiment memorial — which honors one of the first Black regiments in the Civil War — Allen said too many in the state have been abandoned by policymakers, a trend she said has been magnified by the pandemic and the social and economic pain it wrought around the state.

“It’s time to accelerate the pace of change,” she said.

The event marked Allen’s first formal introduction after she spent months exploring a gubernatorial bid. She stuck largely to broad strokes, calling transportation, education, social justice, and climate change priorities with few policy specifics, and said she’d govern with a desire to lift up those marginalized.

Allen also said the state has tended to “over-criminalize” certain offenses, noting she supported decriminalizing marijuana, but she did not say what other criminal offenses she would support removing from the books.

She also made her pitch to Democrats who helped carry Baker to an easy reelection victory in 2018, saying they “have let their expectations fall.” It was an echo of appeals Democrats have long made in seeking to dent Baker, arguing the state needs a broader vision beyond the technocratic management he promised during both of his successful campaigns.

“They have to recognize that they have settled for too little,” Allen said of Democrats, “that we can ask more of ourselves in this commonwealth.”

She also sharpened criticisms of his administration, describing the state’s initial approach to combating the coronavirus as “slow, halting, and fumbling,” and arguing that Baker has not fully utilized the state’s “talents.”

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Massachusetts has since emerged as one of the leading states in getting residents vaccinated; as of Tuesday, Vermont is the only state that has vaccinated more of its population. When asked what she would attribute to Massachusetts’ success now in beating back COVID-19, Allen pointed to the work of local officials and coalitions, giving credit to such groups as the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition and regional collaboratives in the Berkshires and elsewhere.

“Engaged communities turned the tide,” Allen said.

Allen joins a Democratic contest that already includes Downing, who launched his campaign in February and has regularly prodded Baker since, including publicly saying the governor should testify on revelations about his administration’s management about the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

Downing attempted to capitalize on Allen’s announcement Tuesday, issuing a fund-raising appeal with her name in the subject line within an hour after her press conference. “She’s already raised nearly $300,000!” Downing’s campaign wrote, asking supporters to donate.

The field is expected to grow. State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz of Jamaica Plain, who would enter the race with the support of a number of young progressives, is exploring a bid. She reported this month paying a new political consultant, Almquist & Associates; paying $14,000 to a separate California-based consulting firm called Tides Advocacy for research; and purchasing a domain name for a website, potential signs she’s building the infrastructure for a campaign.

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Democrats are also waiting to see whether Attorney General Maura Healey, who has the advantage of high name recognition and a national reputation as a progressive, will ultimately seek the seat. Longtime Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who announced earlier this year he would not seek reelection, is also viewed as a potential candidate.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.