Juliette Kayyem Is Running for Governor

She announced her decision to run this morning, surprising very few.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

Juliette Kayyem wasn’t fooling anybody Sunday evening, at a gathering of a couple dozen Democratic activists in Dorchester, claiming to be merely considering a gubernatorial run. They could tell she had made that decision (and not just because she had to catch herself referring to her job as a Boston Globe columnist in the past tense).

Kayyem made it official this morning. She joins a field of mirthless Boomer-generation white men, so the smart-mouthed 44-year-old (who allegedly took in the Jay-Z/Justin Timberlake show at Fenway Park earlier this month) should certainly have a chance to stand out in the crowd.

She will also get a solid look from the state’s Democratic activists, who I have found in recent months to have grown only more intractably resistant to the two perceived frontrunners: state Treasurer Steve Grossman, who is running; and state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is threatening to.

Adding to her fortune, the one candidate raising some interest from those activists so far, state senator Dan Wolf, has just managed to contort himself into a possibly game-ending wrestling match with the state Ethics Commission.

Wolf had preceded Kayyem by a few days to the living room of Joyce Linehan, and most of the folks I spoke with were a little more impressed with her than him. Not enough to seal the deal for most—this was no Elizabeth Warren conversion experience—but a good start for a first-time candidate.

Taking questions, Kayyem proved to be adept at handling questions on a wide range of topics, speaking in considerable detail, which went over well with these fairly hard-core policy junkies. Her broad theme was that the state needs to accomplish a number of things over the coming years—on sustainable jobs, quality schools, affordable higher education, environment, and so on—but we have to find politically feasible approaches to move in those directions, rather than waste energy on pie-in-the-sky solutions that will never actually happen. Deval Patrick, she said, had fought hard to move the ball forward on those issues, and the next governor has to pick up the fight where he leaves off.

She also periodically dropped a phrase, “I don’t do luck,” that seemed more a personal mantra than a prepared slogan, but which struck me as an effective way to bridge for the audience her work as a homeland security leader and the job of a governor. It’s all about planning ahead for contingencies, whether tomorrow’s terror threats or tomorrow’s job markets, and she’d rather get us ready for it now than wait and react when it happens.

Kayyem reminds me a bit of 2002 gubernatorial candidate Shannon O’Brien: the age, appearance, and demeanor of a fellow parent you might find yourself chatting with at a kids’ party, with a resume that should leave no question about their competence. Like O’Brien (at least, to my memory), Kayyem presents as someone with liberal impulses tempered by pragmatic moderation.

Of course, O’Brien had a statewide political organization, proven fundraising networks, and campaign experience—and still didn’t become governor. So Kayyem’s got a long way to prove that she can be a serious player in the race.

But consider: O’Brien beat a bunch of men for the Democratic nomination, and then lost a close general election to a tall, smart, handsome, paternalistic businessman. The demographic and ideological shift of the state—and increasing comfort with female pols—since the Mitt Romney election would likely make up the difference for Kayyem against Charlie Baker, all else being equal. (Warning: all else is never equal.)