Dissecting Kim Janey’s Tenure as Mayor
As of November 2, Boston officially has a new mayor. Michelle Wu replaced Acting Mayor Kim Janey after former Mayor Marty Walsh was appointed as Biden’s Secretary of Labor. Janey first served as a community organizer at Massachusetts Advocates for Children for nearly seventeen years before being elected into office. Janey was then elected to the Boston City Council in 2017 representing District 7, which includes parts of Roxbury, the South End, Dorchester, and Fenway. She was elected to be Boston City Council president in 2020, a position she held until March 2021 when she was sworn in as interim mayor.
Photo Courtesy: NBC Boston
Upon Walsh’s confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Janey was sworn in as mayor, a move made by the Boston City Charter. Despite her short stay in City Hall, Janey’s appointment was historic; upon being sworn in as acting mayor, Janey became the first woman and the first person of color to serve as Boston’s mayor. Janey is also the ninth acting mayor in Boston’s history.
Upon being sworn into office, Janey established six “Mayoral Transition Sub Committees” to assist in her transition to acting mayor. These committees focused on issues such as public health
education, housing, safety, economic development, and transportation.
Janey was sworn into office one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, much of her term was focused on distributing vaccines fairly and effectively, returning children to school safely, and promoting Boston’s economic recovery.
Janey’s first announcement as acting mayor was the creation of the Vaccine Equity Grant Initiative, which focused on increasing awareness of and access to the COVID-19 vaccine in communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. In May, Janey and
Boston's Health and Human Services Chief Marty Martinez announced the “Hope” campaign, a multilingual public awareness campaign encouraging Boston's residents to get vaccinated.
Janey received backlash in August when she compared requiring proof of vaccination to enter restaurants and other public places to slave papers and birtherism. Although she later backtracked on this comparison following nationwide attention and controversy, Janey continued to hold an anti-mandate position, claiming it would disproportionately impact people of color. She also received criticism from her mayoral competitors Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu for these comments. Despite her opposition to requiring the public to show their vaccination status, Janey did require all municipal employees to demonstrate vaccination or undergo regular testing under threat of termination.
Janey also tackled policing in a new way. In May, Janey signed an ordinance restricting Boston Police's use of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets as crowd control agents. The following month, Boston City Council approved Janey's plan to cut $399 million from the police budget.
Janey additionally announced a pilot program in August to have EMTs and mental health personnel respond to 9-1-1 calls regarding mental health matters that are not a public safety concern. The plan was established by the city's Mental Health Crisis Response Working Group, the Boston Police Department and the Boston Office of Health and Human Services.
In June, amid growing tensions between Janey and the city council over budget negotiations, the city council granted itself the authority to remove its president by a two-thirds majority vote. Had this occurred while the president was serving as acting mayor, the newly elected president would take over the position. However, a vote was not called during Janey’s time in office.
The homelessness crisis became another issue Janey had to spend lots of time addressing. In late March, Janey temporarily shut down the “comfort station” in the Mass. and Cass area, the location of a large homeless population. This comfort station provided the homeless with basic services such as restrooms. It reopened with changes in May, but was later shut down entirely in July, with Janey citing safety concerns. However, violence in the area has continued since the shutdown.
Following this shutdown, Janey declared homelessness and opioid addiction a public health crisis. In October, she signed an executive order creating a “central coordinating team” to outline shelters and addiction treatments available to the city’s homeless population. The executive order also enforced the removal of tenants in the Mass and Cass area, citing the lack of hygiene, physical and sexual violence, and numerous overdoses in the area as the cause. Janey was criticized for this decision, with some suggesting that she was effectively criminalizing homelessness with this executive order.
Her intention to continue her position as clear from the onset. Janey announced her candidacy for mayor on April 6, a month into her role as acting mayor. Given the national attention she had garnered as acting mayor, Janey was first considered a frontrunner. Throughout the summer she continued to gain support, but her comments on vaccine regulations proved detrimental to her campaign.
Janey conceded the election on September 15 following the primary election in which she placed fourth. On September 25, Janey endorsed fellow candidate Michelle Wu for mayor, who eventually won the election, in an unprecedented move for a sitting mayor.
While Janey served as acting mayor, the duties of city council president were filled on an acting basis by the council's president pro tempore, Matt O'Malley. Janey will remain on the city council until her term ends in January 2022.
Despite holding the honor of serving as Boston's mayor for just 7 months, Janey was thrown into office at an extremely turbulent time and played a vital role in Boston’s vaccine rollout. Some will remember her policy controversies and electoral shortcomings, but many will remember how Janey made several strides towards a more progressive Boston which will be built on by Mayor Wu.