Opinion

Warren candidacy could connect in a blue state

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Newton Mayor Setti Warren speaks with the Item in this February 2017 file photo.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren is running for governor and political handicappers are unlikely to pick him as an odds-on favorite to beat Gov. Charlie Baker in 2018. But Warren, a Democrat, has a track record and a perspective on government that makes him an interesting candidate.

An Iraq War veteran who worked for the federal government and has served as Newton’s mayor for two terms, Warren is blunt about how well state government serves Massachusetts residents: “There is a case to be made we can do better.”

He will make that case during the gubernatorial campaign he officially launched on May 20. For now, Warren is talking frankly and not worrying about being branded a pro-tax candidate or another free-spending Democrat.

He supports a “millionaire’s tax” and said his campaign for governor will be matched by the stance he takes in favor of a proposed ballot question advocating the tax.

“We need more revenue,” he said in a February Item editorial board interview, adding: “Now is not the time to nibble around the edges.”

That is bold talk for someone wading into a big-time political arena like the governor’s race. But Warren has the bona fides to back up his statement. He said his record as mayor includes transforming an empty city reserve fund into a $20 million rainy day account.

When he walked into the mayor’s office for the first time in 2010, Warren made finances a priority. He worked with 17 public service unions to align city government health care costs and instituted management practices.

Comparing Massachusetts’ state government to Newton’s municipal government is like comparing Jupiter to Pluto. But Warren is kicking off his campaign for the state’s top office by sticking to a big-picture view of Massachusetts’ needs.

“We’re not making the investments that matter,” he told Item editors. He pointed to transportation infrastructure to make his point.

“We have a complete, utter failure in transportation,” he said.

The primary example he uses to illustrate this statement is the decades-long push by Lynn business and political leaders to extend Blue Line rapid transit to Lynn. Long looked upon as an economic development spark for Lynn, the Blue Line extension, in Warren’s, view is a way to make the North Shore’s gateway city a regional transportation hub.

The implications of that perspective are significant. Mass-transit alternatives are taking on heightened importance at a time when aging roadways are becoming more congested and clogged with traffic. Providing a Boston-Lynn transit link sets the stage for forging an economic bond between the cities.

Warren sees the logic behind the Blue Line extension and other long-term projects aimed at enhancing Massachusetts’ economy. The difference between Warren and a lot of people running for office or serving in public office is he is not afraid to talk about spending tax dollars in order to make a difference in Massachusetts.

He thinks a millionaire’s tax could generate an estimated $2 billion annually. Plenty of critics will line up to criticize the tax. But how many will offer constructive solutions aimed at fixing Massachusetts’ roads and bridges and modernizing aging housing?

“This is about economic stimulation,” he said, “and the courage and honesty to raise revenue.”

That’s a tough position to argue against and Warren is sure to state his case all the way to the ballot box next year.

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