BOSTON (SHNS/WWLP) – Flanked by a small group of supporters including the mayor of Cambridge, Democrat Danielle Allen officially launched her gubernatorial campaign Tuesday during a press conference where she critiqued the Baker administration’s handling of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
With her official announcement out of the way, Allen becomes the first Black woman to seek the governorship as a major party candidate and, if elected, would become the first Black woman governor. At her launch, backers like Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui touted her academic expertise and experience advising politicians.
One of her first campaigning locations was Springfield on Tuesday. Allen held a press conference on the patio of Dewy’s Jazz Lounge in Springfield which just opened this past weekend.
“We call on the people of Massachusetts to reimagine ourselves as one commonwealth. In all, our diversity, working together to lay a foundation for one another to stand up and rise,” Allen said to 22News.
Allen said the state got off to a “pretty rocky start” on vaccinations, pointing to elders who had to drive for hours to reach a vaccination site and delays with the state’s vaccination appointment website.
“My friend Tina, who was trying to book an appointment for her older and ill husband, met a dysfunctional website that told her her wait time would be 20,850 minutes,” she said. “That is almost a full year. But when our state government was failing us, the people did not.”
When asked what Gov. Charlie Baker’s biggest failing was in regard to his handling of the pandemic, Allen said the administration “doesn’t sufficiently activate the talents of everybody in the commonwealth, doesn’t see the solutions on the ground that communities understand.”
“We need a state administration that sees the leadership ideas, the solutions that are emerging from the ground and invest in those, helps to scale them up,” she said.
The Baker administration has directed a large-scale vaccine campaign that, over the past several months, has led to just over 4 million residents receiving full vaccination status. The Republican governor also convened a group to advise him on communication, distribution, and equity issues surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.
That group included health officials from Mass General Brigham, Harvard University, former Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, and faith leaders such as Rev. Liz Walker from the Roxbury Presbyterian Church.
A spokesperson for Baker did not respond to a request seeking comment in response to Allen’s critiques.
While Allen has not held political office before, she said she has experience with “the mechanics of politics” after advising a number of presidents, governors, and mayors across the country on policy decisions.
“My experience comes in the form of an advisor behind the scenes, working with elected officials of all kinds,” she said. “I’ve helped drive all kinds of policy towards conclusion and implementation as a person behind the scenes so it’s more about stepping to the front, leading from the front, as opposed to doing the work behind the scenes.”
During Tuesday’s candidacy announcement, Allen said she held “core progressive values.”
“I believe that we are really at a moment of existential threat, both with regard to climate, with regard to the health of our democracy, with regard to questions of justice,” she said. “I think we need to combine those progressive values with innovative approaches to solutions.”
On the criminal justice front, Allen said the state should build a different approach to sanctioning and safety, adding that Massachusetts could take cues from policies in Germany and the Netherlands.
“We’ve seen good seeds laid with restorative justice programs, for example, alternative dispatch systems where we really can connect people to health and social services needs,” she said. “We do have models, Germany and the Netherlands have an approach to sanctioning, where they use incarceration at far lower rates than we do.”
She said the state needs to also take a look at school resource officers and interrupt the school to prison pipeline.
“We need to look at the question of whether or not we over-criminalize,” she said. “So in that regard, I was an advocate, for example of the proposition to legalize cannabis a few years ago, I think that was a really important step forward.”
Allen has been exploring a bid for governor for months and news of her decision finally broke Sunday evening. She joins what is likely to become a crowded Democratic primary.
Former Democratic Sen. Ben Downing announced his bid in February and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz is weighing the possibility of running — not to mention a potential Attorney General Maura Healey campaign or Gov. Charlie Baker taking a third shot at the office.
As far as fundraising goes, Allen sits middle of the pack among other potential and declared candidates.
The Harvard professor reported over $283,000 cash on hand as of early June, putting her ahead of Downing’s $111,398 and Chang-Diaz’s $203,164 but well behind Baker’s $484,288 campaign war chest and Healey’s $3.06 million, according to the state’s campaign finance office.