Boston Mayor Tapped for Biden’s Cabinet
President Biden has nominated Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to join his cabinet as Labor Secretary. While the nomination of Walsh, a white man, disappoints some who were hoping for a more diverse cabinet, others are thrilled to have a more pro-union labor secretary. If confirmed, Walsh will be the first union member to serve this position in nearly half a century. Prior to being elected mayor in 2013, Walsh served as a state representative and was head of the Boston Building Trades Council. He also joined the Laborers’ Union Local 223 at age 21 and served as its president until he was elected mayor. Walsh and Biden have been close for years; along with the working class, Irish-Catholic background they share, they have also worked together in support of striking grocery workers, and Biden presided over Walsh’s inauguration after his re-election in 2018.
Biden made labor reform a major part of his platform during the election. Vowing to prioritize worker safety, Biden has promised to enforce an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden has also pledged to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, something Walsh has already accomplished in Massachusetts. Additionally, Biden is expected to eliminate tip wage, which allows employers to count tips towards mandated minimum wage. There is also expected to be a push for a more labor-friendly National Labor Relations Board, which currently holds a 3-1 Republican majority, with one open seat; Biden is expected to bring the board back to a Democrat majority.
With millions out of work and facing the loss of unemployment benefits due to the global pandemic, as well as a narrowly divided Congress, Mayor Walsh is stepping into this job at one of the most critical times in history for American labor. He has already been approved for the position by the House, and now awaits final confirmation from the Senate. As the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Walsh is expected to focus on workplace safety during the pandemic, along with enforcing Occupational Safety and Health Act regulations, which were scaled back under the Trump administration. Walsh has also been a long time advocate for pay equity among genders and aces, as well as for equity of opportunity, regardless of race or gender, and is expected work to bring this about on a federal level. Additionally, Walsh is likely to push for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, as well as paid family leave, both of which he advocated for and oversaw the enforcement of as mayor of Boston.
Boston has been a part of Mayor Walsh’s life since he was born. Walsh grew up in Dorchester, surviving Burkitt’s lymphoma as a child and later struggling with alcoholism as a young man. Having been sober for over twenty years, his own experiences with addiction have inspired his lifelong commitment to the prevention and treatment of the disease. A major focus of his administration has been strengthening public schools; adding hundreds of pre-kindergarten seats, funding extended learning time and advanced curriculum at more schools, and securing tuition-free community college for Boston Public Schools graduates. Walsh has additionally pushed for economic growth in Boston. One of his more successful endeavors as mayor was moving the General Electric company headquarters from Connecticut to Boston, bringing hundreds of jobs along with it, as well as helping to build Boston’s innovation economy. Other major accomplishments of his include forming the nation’s first municipal Office of Recovery Services to prevent and treat substance abuse, expanding affordable and middle-incoming housing for Boston, and creating the “learn and earn” job apprenticeship program and an Office of Financial Empowerment to address income inequality.
Despite his accomplishments, Marty Walsh’s tenure as mayor has not been without controversy. In August 2019, two of his aides were convicted of extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion for attempting to force music festival organizers to hire union labor. Additionally, former Boston Planning and Development Agency official John Lynch pled guilty in 2019 to accepting a $50,000 bribe from a developer on a condo project. Although Walsh was not implicated in either of these crimes, the investigation of himself and his colleagues in the aftermath of these scandals caused some concern among Boston residents regarding the integrity of their mayor. Mayor Walsh has also received criticism for the size of Boston’s police budget in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Walsh agreed to scale back the budget by $12 million, 3% of the $414 million budget, despite many activists calling for a 10% decrease.
As for Walsh’s replacement, the Boston City Council has already moved to cancel the special election, citing the potential health risks and costs of holding four elections in what would be less than six months. Under this petition, Boston City Council President Kim Janey would serve as acting mayor once Walsh departs until the mayoral election in November 2021, upon which the elected mayor would be immediately sworn in, rather than waiting until January 2022. The petition passed with a 12-0 vote, with two of the current candidates for mayor, councilwoman Michelle Wu and councilwoman Andrea Campbell, voting in favor of the petition, while their fellow candidate, councilwoman Anissa Essaibi George, abstained from the vote. Dana Depeltau, a former hotel manager, has also since announced his candidacy for mayor, as has Massachusetts state representative Jon Santiago. Despite speculation, Kim Janey has not yet announced whether or not she will be running for mayor as well.
Michelle Wu is a lawyer who has served on the Boston City Council since 2014 and served as its president from 2016 to 2018. She is a Democrat and is building her campaign around issues such as housing affordability, education equity, and closing the racial wealth gap. Andrea Campbell is a lawyer and a Democrat who has served on the Boston City Council since 2016 and served as its president from 2018 to 2020, following Michelle Wu and preceding current president Kim Janey. Campbell is focusing her campaign on COVID-19 recovery and public health, driving economic growth, and reforming the Boston police and criminal justice system. Anissa Essabi George has served as a member of the Boston City Council since 2016 and is the chair of the Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health, and Recovery. She is a Democrat and a close ally of Mayor Walsh, whom she has known since childhood. George is also a former teacher and intends to focus her campaign on issues such as increasing investment and safety in schools, ending homelessness in Boston, and affordable housing. Dana Depelteau is a former hotel manager and first time political candidate. His campaign will focus on the financial accountability of the city government, closing the wage gap, and investing in the education system. Jon Santiago is an ER doctor and has been a Massachusetts state representative since 2019. He is also a Democrat and has been a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve since 2013. He plans to build his campaign around affordable and accessible healthcare, environmental justice, and economic recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petition to cancel the special election has already been approved by Mayor Walsh and now awaits final approval from the state legislature and Governor Charlie Baker. It has received broad support from local voting advocates and residents.