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Harvard professor Danielle Allen to ‘wind down’ gubernatorial campaign

Danielle Allen.screenshot (Custom credit)

Harvard professor Danielle Allen, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient and the first Black woman to run for governor as part of a major party in Massachusetts, is “winding down” her campaign, she said Tuesday.

The Democrat, who boasts a sterling academic resume but has no experience in elected office, did not offer a specific reason for her exit, though she lamented a political structure that makes it challenging for candidates without political experience to run for office.

“There is no excuse for ballot access procedures that push out qualified but nontraditional candidates and rob the people of Massachusetts of real choice on their ballot,” said Allen, 50. “Working on democratic reform in this area will be a priority for me.”


A spokeswoman for the campaign said Allen saw the path to victory narrowing, and felt that she could make more significant contributions on her priority issues in ways other than a campaign.

Allen’s exit comes as the open race for governor continues to take shape. The entrance last month of Attorney General Maura Healey, a well-known Democrat who is seen as the race’s front-runner, caused some political pundits to wonder whether the contest was already all but over. Without Governor Charlie Baker in the running, Democrats are bullish on their chances to take back the corner office, which has been held by Republicans for the better part of the past three decades.

Massachusetts Democrats are set to hold their convention in June. State Senator Sonia Chang-Dίaz, a veteran progressive lawmaker with the support of hyper-engaged party activists, is also seeking the party’s nomination.

A barrier-breaker herself, Allen was part of a historically diverse Democratic field, whose three women would each have been the first woman elected Massachusetts governor. (Jane Swift, a Republican, inherited the position when her predecessor became a US ambassador.) Chang-Diaz would be the state’s first Latina governor, and Healey would be one of just three LGBTQ people elected governor in the United States.


Two major Republican candidates, businessman Chris Doughty and former state lawmaker Geoff Diehl, are also seeking the position.

The author of several books, Allen is the head of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics (though she has been on leave since July). The Cambridge resident is married and has two children. She studied at Princeton University, Cambridge University, and Harvard University, and was a dean at the University of Chicago, where her appointment at 32 made her one of the youngest deans the school has ever appointed.

Allen’s decision appears to have been relatively recent; just two weeks ago, she rolled out a major policy proposal to decriminalize drugs, including heroin. The proposal waded into uncommon territory for a gubernatorial candidate, and set her apart from her two progressive rivals.

In a lengthy statement Tuesday, Allen wrote that “our democracy is in dire straits” and pledged to continue her work on issues like housing, transparency, and drug decriminalization.

“While I am announcing my decision to wind down my campaign for governor, my commitment to continue creating progress on these issues — arm in arm with activists and community members across our Commonwealth — is unwavering,” Allen said in a statement. “Our commitment is our power, and it isn’t going anywhere.”

As of the end of January, Allen had nearly $500,000 on hand, significantly more than Chang-Dίaz. Healey had nearly $4 million. Both remaining major Democratic candidates thanked Allen on Tuesday for her contributions to the race.


Before launching her campaign in June, Allen had spent months laying the groundwork for it with a statewide “listening tour,” talking to voters about issues like housing. Her mission, she said, was to bring the lessons of her career as a political philosopher — that government must meet a high bar, serving all people — to Beacon Hill.

She told the Globe at the time that it was a mistake to see elected office or business experience as the only appropriate precursor to serving as governor. Now, the field’s four major candidates all come from a corporate or political background.

“Every sector of our economy requires leadership,” she said in June. “Sometimes we think that corporations are the only places that generate leaders. This is not true. Leadership emerges everywhere.”

Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.