City Council President Kim Janey, a Roxbury native whose family has deep roots in the neighborhood, will become the first Black, and first female, mayor of Boston when Marty Walsh resigns to become the US Secretary of Labor.
The 55-year-old Janey was elected to the city council in 2017 and represents Roxbury and parts of the South End, Dorchester, and the Fenway on the 13-member council. She was elected last January to serve a two-year term as the council president, a presiding role that will catapult her into the city’s chief executive chair as “acting” mayor.
In his State of the City speech, delivered on Tuesday evening, Walsh noted Janey’s imminent role as chief executive. “I have spoken with Councillor Janey, and we have begun the transition,” he said. “I am confident that the operations of city government, including our Covid response, will continue smoothly. And I want you to know, the work we have done together for the past seven years has prepared Boston to build back stronger than ever.”
Sources familiar with the transition planning tell the Reporter that Walsh and Janey met in the mayor’s office on Monday to begin laying the groundwork for an orderly transfer of leadership within the next month to six weeks.
In a statement issued last Friday, Janey said: “I want to start by congratulating Mayor Walsh on his nomination for US Secretary of Labor. His deep love for the city, and his dedication to working people and good jobs, have left a remarkable impact, and his legacy will show that dedication.”
“Should Mayor Walsh be confirmed by the Senate, I am ready to take the reins and lead our city through these difficult times,” Janey said. “I look forward to working with the Walsh administration and my colleagues on the Council to ensure a smooth transition as we address the unprecedented challenges facing our city.”
On Tuesday, Janey told the Reporter that she has not made a decision on whether to mount a campaign this year for a full, four-year term.
“While many people have reached out to talk about my running for mayor, my focus now is on ensuring a smooth transition for the people of Boston during these challenging times,” Janey said in a message sent through a spokesperson on Tuesday.
The precise date on which Janey will take charge is not yet known— and the full duration of her interim role will depend on decisions made by the council, Walsh, the Legislature, Gov. Baker. It may also be impacted by events in Washington.
Sources familiar with the likely sequence of confirmation hearings for Biden’s cabinet believe that Walsh would most likely be confirmed by the Democrat-controlled Senate by mid-February.
Maureen Feeney, the clerk of the city and a former city councillor from Dorchester, told the Reporter that the city charter calls for a special election to be scheduled to fill the vacancy left by Walsh if he resigns before March 5— which is the most likely scenario at this point. If he were to resign on or after March 5, the election to replace him would be held as scheduled, with a preliminary in September and a run-off between two finalists in November. The winner in the general election would be sworn in immediately after the results are certified, likely within days of the final.
But an effort to override the special election requirement is underway. Last Friday, Councillor Ricardo Arroyo of Hyde Park filed a Home Rule petition that would eliminate the need for a special election, no matter when Walsh resigns. That filing would need to be approved by the majority of the council and Walsh before going to the Legislature and the governor for approval.
Janey says she supports Arroyo’s petition idea “because special elections historically disenfranchise communities of color and low-income communities.
“We are in a state of emergency due to the ongoing pandemic, and multiple elections for the same office jeopardize the health of our residents,” Janey told the Reporter on Tuesday. “Additionally, I’m concerned about the cost of the special election to the city when we are looking at revenue deficits.”
Arroyo, who joined the council in 2019 representing Roslindale, Readville, parts of Mattapan, and his native Hyde Park, has argued that having four elections — and potentially four different mayors — over the next ten months would be disruptive and chaotic. He expects that the measure will pass muster with his colleagues, the mayor, and state lawmakers, too.
Councillor Frank Baker, who represents a large section of Dorchester as the District 3 councillor, said Monday that uncertainty about when a successor for Walsh will be chosen — and whether a special election will or won’t happen— is worrisome.
“For the city of Boston, I feel concerned for us with the uncertainty, and cities need surety more than anything,” Baker said. “It concerns me that in a difficult time all of the cards get thrown up in the air. I am very happy for [Mayor Walsh] and I’m going to hope for the best for the city.”
As for who Baker might support for mayor, he said, “The field still isn’t set. I’d like to see what the field is and whether we’ll have a special election.”
Janey, who hails from a large family with deep roots in Roxbury and the South End, took office in January 2018, after winning an open seat in District 7 that was vacated by former Councillor Tito Jackson. A longtime civic leader in her neighborhood, Janey was working as a senior project director at the education non-profit Massachusetts Advocates for Children prior to her election.
Arroyo, who is likely Janey’s closest ally on the council, says his colleague faces a daunting task— particularly with revenue deficits and Covid-19 infections that are at emergency thresholds.
“She is coming in at a unique time for the history of the city and she’s going to do it with the shortest transition in history. I hope that folks are able to set aside whatever other concerns they may have for the betterment of the city,” he said. “We’re going to have to pull together from all directions to help.
He added: “She was elected the leader of council because she does have the ability to lead and she’s shown that, whether it was with Covid, racial equity, cannabis equity. She’s capable of leading. My hope is that everyone gives her the support to do the most that she can and really meet the moment.”