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Seth Magaziner should stay out of the race for Congress

Democratic state treasurer Seth Magaziner responded to a reporter after he announced he was running for governor of Rhode Island last fall.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

Seth Magaziner has awoken every day for more than seven years as Rhode Island’s state treasurer and seen a governor in the mirror.

Every decision, every word, every movement comes with that goal in mind, and for the most part, his strategy has worked.

He hasn’t looted the state’s money bin or run the pension system into the ground. He’s still the fundraising leader among the current Democratic candidates running for the state’s top job. And to his credit, he’s taken a lot of time to learn the inner workings of state government, develop his own views on key issues, and become the kind of policy wonk the governor’s office could use.

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Fine, he’s not JFK when he’s got a microphone in his hands. But he has also proven that he’s more than some ambitious rich kid who has been handed everything in life.

Except that’s exactly how he’s acting right now.

If you haven’t heard, Magaziner is considering dropping out of the governor’s race in favor of a run for Congress to succeed retiring US Representative James Langevin. He hasn’t made a final decision yet, but one of the reasons you haven’t seen a flood of Democrats formally enter the race is because many of them were told over the weekend that Magaziner was switching over.

“I’m flattered by the many people who have encouraged me to consider running for Congress and I share their concern that Democrats need a strong candidate to hold the seat,” Magaziner said on Sunday. “While I feel I owe it to those who have reached out to consider the possibility, I also believe strongly in our campaign to bring strong economic leadership to the governor’s office and remain in the race for governor at this time.”

The only words in that statement that mattered were “at this time.”

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Like when Danny Hurley was the coach of URI basketball until something shinier came along.

In Magaziner’s case, it’s not that being a freshman most likely in the minority party of the US House of Representatives is a better job than being governor. It just seems like it might be an easier Democratic primary to win.

Powerful Democrats in this state are so concerned that a Republican like former Cranston mayor Allan Fung is going to win the more moderate 2nd Congressional District that they’re lobbying for someone who doesn’t even live in the district in an attempt to clear the primary field.

Step aside, former Democratic Party chairman Ed Pacheco and Omar Bah. Step aside, thoughtful state lawmakers who want to make the jump. Step aside, any woman at all.

To be clear, there’s nothing illegal about running for Congress in a district you don’t live in. But it’s exactly the kind of arrogant, elitist move that won’t play well against someone like Fung, whose wedding reception was at Twin Oaks and honeymoon was on Mulligan’s Island.

More important than the political lay of the land, a decision to exit the governor’s race would be letting a whole bunch of supporters down.

People like state Representative Karen Alzate, who has taken some heat as chair of the Legislative Black and Latino Caucus for being an early supporter of Magaziner for governor, even though Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, a Latina, is a qualified candidate for the same job.

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In her endorsement video, Alzate praised Magaziner’s leadership on school construction for helping Pawtucket build a new elementary school. That’s not just political rhetoric. Magaziner helped shape Rhode Island’s plan for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on school repairs.

Even Patrick Kennedy, a former congressman himself, knows where Magaziner can be most useful.

“Rhode Islanders need a Governor like @SethMagaziner who understands the mental health crisis we are facing,” Kennedy tweeted over the weekend.

And what’s his message to the experts and stakeholders he’s listened to over the past few years, the people who helped him craft relatively meaty plans for economic development, education, housing, and infrastructure?

I promise, I can still do all of those things when I’m a member of the Joint Committee on Printing.

Magaziner is expected to make his decision by the end of the week, and it won’t be an easy one. He’s not even close to being a shoo-in to win the Democratic primary for governor, and maybe it’s true that there’s an easier path to Congress.

But when he looks at himself in the mirror, he’ll see just another political opportunist.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.