Meeting The Gubernatorial Candidates: Harvard's Danielle Allen

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Danielle Allen announces her candidacy for governor of Massachusetts in 2021. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Danielle Allen announces her candidacy for governor of Massachusetts in 2021. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Throughout the summer, we are inviting the major candidates officially running for governor to make their case to our listeners.

Last month, we spoke to Republican candidate and former state representative Geoff Diehl, Democratic candidate and State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, and Democratic candidate and former State Senator Ben Downing.

Below are highlights of our conversation with Harvard professor Danielle Allen, running to be the Democratic candidate for governor next year.

Interview Highlights

On what she brings to the race:

"I combine a vision for what we could be if we work on behalf of all of us together, which is one commonwealth. I combine vision with management capacity — 20 years of experience leading organizations at all scales, from small startups to a $6 billion philanthropy — and clarity about what we need for an economy that supports growth and development of the whole of our commonwealth and connects everybody to opportunity and security."

On coming from a background in education rather than government:

"I've had lots of opportunities for managerial leadership experiences in the nonprofit sector, and government is a nonprofit sector; I think sometimes we forget that. So I think that there is lots that translates. I was fortunate to have an early leadership opportunity at the age of 32 as dean of the Division of Humanities at the University of Chicago. It's a small job compared to state government, but it was 250 full time employees and $60 million annual budget, and [I] have been leading teams and leading organizations to success ever since. So in that regard, I think what we are working on is about building teams to meet a transformational moment. And I have a lot of experience building and leading teams to, again, organizational success and real clarity about the transformational moment that we're in."

On the change she hopes to bring to the commonwealth:

"For starters, we would see our whole commonwealth, and we would understand that in order to connect everybody to opportunity and security, what we really need to do is invest in basic building blocks of infrastructure: social infrastructure, housing, transportation, schools, good jobs and justice.

"So for starters ... we need an abundant supply of affordable, accessible housing all over the commonwealth, and we also really need to have a modernized transportation infrastructure. Those two parts of infrastructure are really strangling our economy, especially outside of Route 128. We have to do a work of transformation to ensure that the entire commonwealth is connected to a growing, prosperous economy.

"I did a lot of work on COVID last year. I spent just tons of time digging in all levels — city, state, federal — really working to build out infrastructure for testing, working on contact tracing and the like. But what that experience drove home to me was just how different resources are in different parts of our commonwealth in between urban areas, rural areas, gateway cities and the like. And so fundamentally a lot of our challenges with COVID, a lot of the ways in which it has hit inequitably, just reflect the underlying inequities in our economy."

On appealing to a broad audience beyond progressive democrats:

"The simple fact of the matter is that my focus on investment in infrastructure — the basic building blocks of infrastructure — is a whole-commonwealth approach to our economy, and I think that really responds to centrist concerns.

"As we've been running this listening session, these conversations all over the commonwealth, we just hear from everybody, all different kinds of political perspectives and backgrounds, that housing and transportation are the number one concerns. Now, when you address those, when you invest in that kind of infrastructure, it does support a broad footprint for growth across the whole commonwealth.

"And that does respond to that sort of centrist concern about making sure we always have a prosperous economy. At the same time, to do that work is how you reconnect people to opportunity and security, so that gives you a chance to address real questions of justice and equity at the same time. So we are in a moment in the commonwealth where what we need actually combines progressive values and centrist concerns, so that's the case I'm working on making."

This segment aired on August 3, 2021.

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