Until Monday night, every mayor of the city of Boston — all 54 of them— has been white and male. At 9:01 p.m., a Black woman raised in Roxbury became the first of her gender and race to lead our city. Kim Janey, elected to the city council in 2018 and selected by her colleagues to chair the body in 2019, is number 55.
In an op-ed on Tuesday morning in the Boston Globe, Janey wrote: “Today is a new day for Boston. As your mayor, I promise to bring my life experiences and passion to make this city better for everyone. I will strive to make positive change across our city.”
There will be some who will affix an asterisk to her achievement. Janey has not been elected citywide— yet. And as of this writing, she is not even a declared candidate for a four-year term. That’s all immaterial.
On Wednesday, after the Reporter had been printed for the week, Janey was to be sworn-in during a ceremony that would make news not only here in Boston, but also across the nation. Hers will be a new face of Boston — and one that we hope will forever puncture the cookie-cutter public profile of our city.
Those who live here know the truth: Boston isn’t the one-note act that has been popularized on screen since the 1960s. The Janeys— a fourth generation Black Boston family— were dropping their Rs on the streets of Roxbury while Marty Walsh’s grandparents were cutting turf from the rock-walled bogs of Connemara. Compared to Janey, the new US Secretary of Labor is a late arrival. But who’s counting? Nowadays in Boston politics, to use the parlance of the legendary rapper Rakim: “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”
And where Kim Janey’s at— as of this very moment— is at the controls of the city’s most prominent and powerful public office. With a solid six-month runway ahead of her, she can take full flight as both a CEO and candidate.
Should she join the field of candidates already in contention— Councillors Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, state Rep. Jon Santiago, and Walsh loyalist John Barros, in order of arrival—Janey will have some catching up to do.
Her campaign coffers topped out at $130,000 as of this writing. That’s fine form for a district city councillor without a tough challenger, but it’s a pittance for someone girding for a mayoral launch. And it would be a fatal flaw save for one key difference between her and the rest of the field: Janey is now the mayor. The finance faucet, once she gives the nod, will flow like the Neponset after a springtime downpour.
Beyond the donations, Mayor Janey will get to strut her stuff in the coming days and weeks with real, important, and executive level decisions on policy, personnel, and, critically, the city budget. Aided by a team of experienced Walsh hands who are staying on to help her, Janey will chart the course for how we spend our city’s capital into 2022 and beyond. The council— including at least three of her potential rivals — will get a say, too. But it’s the mayor who steers the ship.
All of which is a high-wire act for a relative newcomer to City Hall. But Kim Janey’s personal story, and the historic nature of her swearing-in, make for a compelling case as a city eager to break free of the pandemic blues awaits her leadership.
Editor’s Note: Bill Forry’s wife, former Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, is a co-chair of Mayor Janey’s City Hall transition committee, but is not affiliated with any mayoral campaign.