BOSTON (SHNS) – Marking a “new day” in Boston as the first woman and first Black resident to become mayor, Kim Janey set her sights Wednesday on addressing long-standing inequities thrust into new levels of scrutiny by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Janey, who on Monday transitioned from City Council president to acting mayor following former Mayor Martin Walsh’s confirmation as U.S. labor secretary, marked the historical significance of her elevation and looked ahead to the next eight months of her term.
In a speech from City Hall after she took a ceremonial oath of office, Janey said she plans to press state and federal officials to increase COVID-19 testing and vaccination access across Boston, implement reforms to the city’s police department, and help children recover academically and emotionally from more than a year under pandemic learning models.
“The problems laid bare by the pandemic were here well before COVID-19,” Janey said. “The issues of affordable housing, fair wages, public transportation and climate change are not new. What’s different is that these problems now impact even more of us. But I believe, as our pastor has said, these obstacles create an opportunity, an opportunity to come together to heal and build a more equitable city.”
Janey said she steps into the role with a set of life experiences unlike those of her male predecessors.
A fourth-generation Roxbury resident, she was 11 years old when the busing crisis amid court-ordered school desegregation erupted in the 1970s. Janey recounted having “rocks and racial slurs thrown at my bus simply for attending school while Black.”
She became a mother in high school, later cleaning bathrooms so she could pay to attend Smith College and give her daughter “everything she needed to succeed.”
Janey’s first foray into public service came as a volunteer on Mel King’s unsuccessful bid for mayor in 1983, which she called a “historic grassroots campaign.” For nearly two decades, she led the Massachusetts Advocates for Children’s Boston School Reform Project.
In 2017, Janey won a seat on the City Council, becoming the first woman to represent District Seven, and her colleagues elected her the council’s president in 2020. As council president, Janey automatically took over as acting mayor following Walsh’s departure.
“To paraphrase Vice President Kamala Harris, every little girl watching today can see that Boston is a city of possibilities,” Janey said. “Today is truly a new day.”
Making history was a theme throughout Wednesday’s ceremony. U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who was the first Black woman elected to the Boston City Council before becoming the first Black woman elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress, introduced Janey. Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, the first Black woman to lead the state’s highest court, administered the oath of office.
Both women, Janey said as she took the rostrum, “are part of a long line of Black women in our city who have broken down barriers.”
“It is incredible to consider just how far we have come,” Pressley said. “We have borne witness to a shifting political landscape. We have seen great and historic strides made in leadership parity, in the corridors of power, and around policy and decision-making tables. Kim Janey has been a profound force in that transformation as a community member, as a leader, and as an elected official.”
The Legislature, at the City Council’s request, suspended the need for a special election to fill the remainder of the term since the regularly scheduled election this fall is already on the near-term horizon.
Janey has not said if she plans to join the crowded field already in the running for the Sept. 21 preliminary election and the Nov. 2 general election. Candidates include City Councilors Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George, state Rep. Jon Santiago, and John Barros, former executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.
In 1993, Boston City Councilor Thomas Menino was elevated to acting mayor when Mayor Ray Flynn resigned to become U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. That same year, in the regularly scheduled mayoral election, Menino defeated Jim Brett to start his historic run as mayor that ended when Walsh succeeded him in 2014.
Janey has been preparing for weeks. In late February, she appointed chairs of her mayoral transition sub-committees, tasking advocates and experts such as ACLU Massachusetts Racial Justice Program Director Rahsaan Hall, Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang, CDC Foundation Chief Health Equity and Strategy Officer Dr. Lauren Smith and Livable Streets Alliance Executive Director Stacy Thompson with advisory roles.
She takes over at a pivotal time. More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the city is navigating a vaccine rollout, a forthcoming return to full in-person learning for K-12 students, the recovery from historic economic shutdowns, and the ongoing threats raised by the virus and its more infectious variants.
Janey promised “bold, courageous leadership, starting with an unrelenting focus to address the impacts of COVID-19.”
“We must do a better job of making vaccines accessible, especially in communities hardest-hit,” Janey said. “As mayor, I will partner with our federal, state and local community leaders to support increased testing and vaccinations across our city.”
The city has “so much more work to do” to achieve its promises of equal opportunity regardless of race, religion or other demographic factors, Janey said. She noted Boston’s “enormous wealth gap” and the higher unemployment rates that people of color faced during the pandemic.
As mayor, Janey said she would pursue “creative solutions” to boost city contracts with minority-owned businesses, and she also called for implementing police reforms she sought as City Council president aimed at addressing racial profiling, curtailing excessive use of force and banning facial recognition.
“Dismantling systemic racism also includes reforming how we police our city,” Janey said. “Together, working with our police department, I am determined to bring safety, healing and justice to all of our neighborhoods.”
Gov. Charlie Baker said he’d called Janey on Tuesday to congratulate her and that he also spoke with her after Walsh was nominated, a conversation that involved talk about COVID-19 and vaccinations.
“I’ve known Councilor Janey, now Mayor Janey, for a while and I think it’s a terrific development for the city of Boston for all kinds of reasons,” he said on GBH radio. “I also think having Mayor Walsh as the secretary of labor, it’s one more Massachusetts voice in the president’s administration, along with several others who know where we are, who we are and what we’re about, which is always a good thing.”
[Katie Lannan and Michael P. Norton contributed reporting.]