Jay Gonzalez, who oversaw the state’s operating budget during the Patrick administration, will launch a campaign Monday for the Democratic nomination for governor, making him the first person to formally challenge Governor Charlie Baker’s expected bid for reelection, a campaign adviser said Sunday.
Gonzalez signaled that he would attempt to link Baker to President Trump, who lost the state badly in November and was the target of street protests Sunday and a week earlier.
“President Trump threatens our values and threatens to take us backward,” Gonzalez said in a press release. “Now more than ever, we need a governor who is going to stand up and fight for our values and fight to move us forward. I’ll be that governor. I’ll work with a sense of urgency to make sure that every working family has a fair shot for a better future.”
“I’m concerned that Governor Baker is too satisfied with the status quo, and he too often stands on the sidelines when we need him. He’s been a status quo, wait-and-see governor,” Gonzalez said.
By announcing Monday, Gonzalez would plunge his campaign into a volatile political news cycle, with thousands having flocked to Copley Square and the State House on Sunday to protest Trump’s executive order on immigration. Some of those at the State House protest chanted at Baker, questioning his position on the order.
Gonzalez, the son of a Spanish immigrant father, opposes the immigration order and attended the Copley Square demonstration, said Sydney Asbury, a Gonzalez campaign adviser.
Asbury, who was former governor Deval Patrick’s campaign manager during his 2010 reelection, said Gonzalez would run on “inclusivity . . . [and] social and economic inequality,” including universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Baker, a popular moderate Republican, released a statement Saturday through a spokesman expressing his opposition to the immigration ban, then followed Sunday with a firmer statement in his own voice.
The governor noted that the state’s education, health care, business, and public sector institutions rely on partners from around the world. “The federal government’s recent decision puts this at risk, and I believe focusing on countries’ predominant religions will not make the country safer, as terrorists have showed they intend to strike from across the world,” he said.
Another possible challenger, Mayor Setti Warren of Newton, a Democrat who began fund-raising for a prospective gubernatorial campaign last year and has hired former Patrick aide John Walsh as an adviser, has sought to elevate his profile. Warren has issued statements in the past week on Trump’s immigration order, legislative pay raises, the state operating budget, and Baker’s State of the Commonwealth address.
Gonzalez backers believe he is uniquely situated to litigate a campaign against Baker. Like Baker, he was the state’s top budget official before leaving to join a health care firm.
But Gonzalez will also be forced during the campaign to defend his record during the Patrick era, which coincided with a global recession that brought on a string of unpopular budget cuts.
Gonzalez, 46, is married and lives in Needham. He has served as a Town Meeting member in Brookline.
He was chairman of the Massachusetts Health Connector board, which implemented the state’s health care reform. He also co-chaired the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.
Gonzalez was among Patrick’s first hires in 2007, leaving a partnership at the Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge law firm. He worked as assistant secretary for capital finance and intergovernmental affairs under Administration and Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan before succeeding her in 2009.
He left the administration in January 2013, later announcing that he had been hired by CeltiCare, a Massachusetts-based health plan. He became chief executive a year later, and stepped down last month. The Globe reported this month that Gonzalez had told associates that he was likely to run.
Baker has indicated he will likely run for a second term in 2018.
Asked about a reelection bid last week, Baker said in an interview, “The big issue associated with running for reelection is: Do you still have a lot of things you believe you’d like to see through and get done, and new initiatives you’d like to pursue? And [Lieutenant Governor] Karyn [Polito] and I have always talked about having that conversation sometime in ’17, and we will,” Baker said.
If he seeks a second term as expected, Baker would go into the campaign with a massive cash advantage. As of Jan. 15, Baker, who has pioneered novel fund-raising techniques that have brought criticism from some good-government watchdogs, had more than $4.7 million in his campaign war chest. He will likely also be able to count on assistance from national Republicans. In 2014, when he beat Democrat Martha Coakley, Baker benefited from more than $11 million poured into the race by the Republican Governors Association.
But national Democrats are also likely to prioritize the Massachusetts governor’s race. Midterm elections frequently serve as referenda on presidents and sharing a party label with Trump could work to Baker’s detriment in deep-blue Massachusetts.
The Democratic field is still taking shape. Aside from Warren, former state senator Dan Wolf has left the door open. Some Democrats have pushed for Attorney General Maura Healey to run, although she said last year that she would not.Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JOSreports.