Harvard Prof. Danielle Allen Says She Would Apply Experience in Academia to Potential Gubernatorial Run


UPDATED: December 18, 2020 at 12:08 a.m.

University Professor and potential 2022 gubernatorial candidate Danielle S. Allen said she would apply decades of experience in academia to her foray into politics in an interview with The Crimson on Tuesday.

Allen announced on Twitter Monday she is exploring a potential Democratic candidacy for Massachusetts governor in 2022. She also officially filed as a potential candidate with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, making her the second Democratic candidate to publicly explore a 2022 gubernatorial bid.

At Harvard, Allen’s academic work has focused on democratic theory and the history of political thought. Allen — who holds Ph.D.s in classics and in political science — said her academic interests have provided her with a “long historical perspective” valuable to public office.


“A historical perspective is always useful in any human endeavor,” she said. “It helps you see how hard change is, how durable communities are, and how resilient they are.”

Allen said she thought about entering politics as a result of three pivotal moments over the past decade, including her family member’s experience with mass incarceration.

“In 2009, I lost a beloved baby cousin,” Allen said. “He had been arrested when he was 15, served about 12 years, and then was killed two years after his first release by somebody he had met in prison.”

Allen also pointed to the 2016 presidential election and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic this March as further reasons she decided to explore entering the political sphere.

“The erosion of democratic norms since [2016] has felt profoundly painful, and I have felt a need to help reverse that and model an alternative in the public sphere: real commitment to core democratic norms including trustworthiness and truthfulness,” Allen said.

As director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Allen helped author the Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience, a comprehensive policy guide published in April that promotes the use of testing, tracing, and supported isolation to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“I just could see real opportunity, real potential to do so much better in terms of how we invest in our health infrastructure," she said.

While Monday’s announcement marks Allen’s first step toward a potential run for governor, Allen said she previously took time off from academia to serve as a regional field organizer for the 2008 Obama campaign. If she were to commit to running, Allen said she plans to take leave from the University.

Allen said that she has always “straddled the lines” between academia and public service – a balance she said she would hope to continue as governor.

“I’ve always merged the two activities,” Allen said. “I have been really fortunate to be able to build on my scholarly track record to collaborate with and contribute to policy-making and legislation.”

Allen also said the skills she has gained as a scholar would be beneficial to addressing public policy issues in Massachusetts as governor.

“Any healthy democracy depends on an ability to bring together big networks of folks with expertise and also connect that to on-the-ground community conversations — where people set their own goals and objectives — and to try to weave those two things together,” she said.

Allen said she will continue in her full-time role at Harvard while she conducts a listening tour to scope out Massachusetts residents’ concerns over the next three months.

“It’s really important to assemble all the best ideas that people around the state are putting forward and really build on the efforts that are underway — asking the question of how can state government really help scale up and bring impact for ideas that are already working,” Allen said.

Allen has already begun assembling a campaign team, courting Reynolds D. Graves, who was a vice president at political communications firm SKDKnickerbocker, as campaign manager. Harvard Business School professor emeritus Malcolm S. Salter ’62 will be her campaign chairman, according to the campaign filing.

Graves previously served as an aide to former Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 and Boston city councilor Tito Jackson, according to the Boston Globe.

Allen enters into a sparse field of declared candidates for the governor’s seat. Scott M. Khourie — a Democrat from Quincy — officially announced his committee on Dec. 11, while Carlos D. Perez — a Libertarian from Springfield — filed on Nov. 4.

Governor Charles D. Baker ’79 has not yet announced a run for a third consecutive term in office. Baker, a two-term incumbent Republican, has remained popular in the state, earning the title of most popular governor in the United States for a span of more than two years.

Still, Allen said she believes she could bring a different perspective to the corner office at the State Capitol.

“Every democracy is healthiest when it has competitive elections, so I believe there’s room for a new voice,” Allen said.

“I believe I add a distinctive voice,” she added.

CORRECTION: December 18, 2020

A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that the Boston Globe reported former Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 and Boston city councilor Tito Jackson were serving on Allen's campaign team. In fact, the Globe article has been updated to clarify that Patrick and Jackson are former employers of Allen's campaign manager, Reynolds D. Graves, and are not on Allen's team.

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at