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OPINION

Maybe Maura Healey isn’t a slam dunk for governor

The lack of clarity about Healey’s plans is raising questions about her commitment to the race.

If Maura Healey is running, she should make it very clear why she wants to be governor.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Is Attorney General Maura Healey running for governor — or not?

Decision-time is imminent, a close aide promises, and Healey’s recent fund-raising appeals certainly hint at a quest for a new job. For example, in December, when Healey wrote to supporters about her zeal for taking on powerful institutions, she added, “For me, though, it’s never been about just taking on big fights, it’s about solving big problems. Right now, this is a moment to solve those big problems and bring fundamental change to Massachusetts. To bring people together to act on child care. On climate. On education. On jobs. On racial justice. We can bring big change to this state — and it will take each of us to make it happen.”

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That sounds like she’s running. Yet the fact that Healey hasn’t announced is becoming a political story in itself. If she’s out, US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is yearning to jump in, according to sources close to the former mayor. Air Force One is fun, but not as much fun as being a big political fish in the Bay State. And so goes the conversation around politicos in Massachusetts, now that Governor Charlie Baker’s decision against seeking a third term seems to clear a path to victory for a well-financed Democrat with high name recognition. Healey has $3.6 million in her campaign account, and Walsh has $5.1 million. That swamps the two announced, lesser-known Democratic candidates: Harvard professor Danielle Allen, who has $370,000 in her campaign account, and state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, with about $250,000.

There’s a funny thing about politics though. It doesn’t always follow the script. In 2014, the political class considered state Senator Warren Tolman’s campaign to become the next attorney general a slam dunk. But Healey, the nimble newcomer, used her Harvard and pro basketball experience to dribble past Tolman to victory. In modern Massachusetts politics, there’s also the matter of the AG’s curse, with the people’s lawyer repeatedly blocked when trying to make the leap to the corner office. In 1990, Frank Bellotti made his third and last unsuccessful run for governor. In 1998, Scott Harshbarger lost the general election to Republican Paul Cellucci. In 2006, Tom Reilly fell to Deval Patrick’s political magic and never made it out of the primary. And in 2014, Martha Coakley lost to Baker, another Republican.

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Healey is different from her predecessors. She’s actually good at retail politics. She knows how to work a room, and the media, winning headlines for taking on Donald Trump, the NRA, ExxonMobil, and the role of the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma in the opioid crisis. She still uses basketball as a way to connect to average voters and score political points. Since she first became AG, she has been touted as a candidate for higher office.

Once Baker said he wasn’t running, the eyes of the Massachusetts political world turned to Healey — and to Walsh. From the start, however, Walsh put out word that if she got in, he wouldn’t. So the pressure has been on Healey to state her intentions. In recent weeks, the rumor mill buzzed about a pending announcement, which so far has not happened.

Strategically, there was no benefit to announcing before the new year and good reason not to. Healey raised more than $400,000 in December while avoiding the scrutiny that would come as an announced candidate. Meanwhile, a lot is happening in state politics, from the latest Omicron surge to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s first weeks in office.

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Yet the lack of clarity about Healey’s plans is raising questions about her commitment to the race. The pandemic has changed priorities for many people. Maybe that’s true for Healey, too. Does she really want to be governor — or is it something others want for her? That’s the first question that needs answering.

If the answer is yes, it’s time to start explaining why to the voters. That’s always the biggest hurdle for ambitious prosecutors in Massachusetts. They are good at arguing every case except their own.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.