NEWTON — Democratic Newton Mayor Setti Warren made official his long-anticipated bid for governor Saturday afternoon, pledging to fight against economic inequality in the state.
In a speech delivered from his front lawn, the 46-year-old also promised to combat political divisiveness, saying Massachusetts residents have a moral obligation to make this state better for the next generation.
Much of Warren’s speech seemed to appeal to local discontent with the chaotic state of the federal government since Donald Trump’s election as president.
Warren advocated for higher taxes, especially on the rich, in order to pay for public programs like single-payer health care and free public college. He called economic inequality the “defining issue” of the generation.
“Our economy is leaving people and communities behind,” he said. “Our political rhetoric is turning neighbors into enemies. And as I’ve been listening to the people of the Commonwealth, what I’ve heard is that they don’t think Beacon Hill hears them.”
Warren spoke at a block party on his street organized for the announcement. His comments on health care and education drew cheers from the crowd of about 500.
He is the third Democrat to officially enter the 2018 race to challenge incumbent Republican Charlie Baker’s expected reelection bid. Warren called on the crowd to help him launch “the biggest grass-roots campaign in Massachusetts’ history.”
The mayor also said he would make a major push for better public transportation across the state, a veiled shot at the Baker administration, which has made reforming the MBTA a major priority. He called for a Blue Line extension to Lynn, a Springfield-to-Boston bullet train, and repairs to bridges.
Warren has been contemplating a run for months. He has been fund-raising since last November. That was the same month he announced that he would not seek reelection in Newton, where he took office in 2010 as the city’s first black mayor.
Warren, an Iraq Navy veteran, said Massachusetts weathered the Great Recession well, but now must do more to assure all residents have good jobs and wages. He said Beacon Hill is so focused on balancing next year’s budget it can’t think about fighting inequality.
“Our nation is at a crossroads,” he said, calling for people to work together. “The very definition of what it means to be American is in dispute.”
Baker, meanwhile, has consistently tried to distance himself from the Republican administration and Congress in Washington.
Warren pointed to his work in Newton to say he is qualified to oversee state finances. The city faced a $40 million deficit when he took office, he said, and had no money in savings. He said he balanced the budget and refilled the savings through careful budgeting and by raising taxes.
Warren was joined on stage Saturday by his wife, Tassy, 36, and children, Abigail, 9, and John, 5.
He painted himself as a product of the American Dream, the son of a father whose military service saved him from drugs and poverty in New York City and a mother who joined her husband in the civil rights movement in North Carolina.
His announcement comes two weeks before state Democrats are scheduled to gather in Worcester for the party convention where all declared gubernatorial candidates customarily make speeches.
So far, no Republicans have launched a primary challenge to Baker.
Two other Democrats are in the race. Environmentalist Bob Massie, who ran for lieutenant governor in 1994, announced his candidacy in April.
Jay Gonzalez, the former state budget chief under former governor Deval Patrick, jumped in in January.
Dan Wolf, the former state senator who founded Cape Air, has not ruled out a campaign.
Many in the state Democratic party yearn for state Attorney General Maura Healey to run but so far she has repeated that she plans to run for reelection.
Any challenge to unseat a popular incumbent will likely be difficult.
Although Baker remains popular among voters, his numbers have softened in recent polls and he took office with the slimmest victory margin in 50 years.
Although this would be Warren’s first run for governor, he is not a statewide political newcomer.
Eighteen months into his first mayoral term, Warren launched a brief run for US Senate, dropping his bid to unseat then US Senator Scott Brown when fellow Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who won the race, financially outstripped him.
Warren’s father, Joe Warren, was a key figure in the political operations of former governor Michael Dukakis in the 1980s and others from that era have recently joined together to help plan strategy for Warren’s run.
Dukakis and his wife, Kitty, were in the crowd Saturday afternoon. The former governor said he gave Warren, whom he has known since he was 3 years old, the same two-minute speech he gave Patrick and Elizabeth Warren when they first ran for statewide office.
In the end, he said, it will come down to manpower and organizing.
“You got 2,157 precincts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and you’ve got to go out and recruit a precinct captain in every one of those 2,157 precincts, each of whom recruits six block captains, and their job is to go out and make personal contact with every single voting household on an ongoing basis,” Dukakis said. “That’s the speech.”