Profile: Acting Mayor Kim M. Janey
On March 24, 2021, Kim M. Janey was sworn in as the Acting Mayor of Boston. She replaces Marty Walsh, who has been appointed Biden’s Secretary of Labor. Janey is both the first female and first Black mayor of Boston. She is a Democrat and the 9th Acting Mayor in Boston’s history.
Janey was born in Roxbury, where she still lives today. Her family has lived in Roxbury for several generations and Janey describes herself as coming from a long line of Roxbury educators, artists, advocates, and entrepreneurs. Janey grew up seeing both poverty and community activism firsthand and from an early age was taught to value education, the power of community organizing, and the fundamental principles of equity and justice. At age 11, Janey was bused from Roxbury to Charlestown, a predominantly white neighborhood, as part of a court-ordered plan to desegregate Boston’s schools. This was met with resistance from the community, and Janey recalls having rocks thrown at her buses, racial slurs, and police escorts. After having her daughter Kenisha at 16, Janey attended community college while caring for her. She later began attending Smith College, but had to pause her studies in order to care for her sick grandfather. Janey eventually graduated from Smith in 1994.
After graduation, Janey became a community organizer and worked at Massachusetts Advocates for Children for nearly seventeen years as an activist and project director. Her work there primarily focused on eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps for children of color, immigrant children, students who are learning English, children with special needs, and children living in poverty. Janey was then elected to Boston City Council in 2017; she was the first woman to represent District 7, which includes Roxbury and parts of the South End, Dorchester, and Fenway. She was then elected by her peers as Boston City Council president in 2020 and served in this position until she became Acting Mayor.
Janey has promised to focus on distributing vaccines fairly and effectively, returning children to school safely, and centering disadvantaged workers and businesses in Boston’s economic recovery during her time as the city’s Acting Mayor. Janey plans to work with state and federal officials to increase the amount of COVID-19 tests and vaccine doses allotted to the city. Janey has also stated that she plans to focus on economic issues and inequality, particularly how small businesses and black owned businesses have been impacted by the pandemic.
Janey will also be key in a budget battle that she previously helped lead as city council director. Shortly after the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed, Janey led a group of councilors to demand that then Mayor Marty Walsh cut the city’s $414 million police budget by 10% and invest $300 million in Boston’s social programs. This proposal received significant backlash from police unions and ultimately did not pass. Walsh instead reallocated funds from the police overtime budget to other programs. Janey has not yet committed to this same budget change since being sworn in as mayor, but she has said that she is reviewing police reform and plans to hire a director to lead the city’s new police accountability office, a measure signed by Walsh in January. She has stressed the importance of identifying the problems plaguing the city, including wealth gaps caused by systemic racism, and implementing new policies to fix them
Janey will face some limitations as Acting Mayor: according to the city’s charter, an Acting Mayor cannot make permanent appointments and can only attend to “matters not admitting to delay.” However, the phrase “matters not admitting to delay,” is very much open to interpretation and the exact powers allotted by that phrase will likely be dictated by the City Council. Given the current state of the world, the City Council will likely allow Janey full power to deal with the pandemic and vaccine distribution. Janey’s plans for focusing on economic inequality and racial injustice may create conflict between her and the council; on the other hand, perhaps her background as the council’s former president may increase her odds of successfully passing policies. The acting mayor can additionally sign ordinances passed by the City Council and perform other administrative duties, such as dealing with the city payroll or signing off on government contracts or grants.
The last time Boston had a long-term Acting Mayor was in 1993, when then City Councilor Tom Menino was sworn in that July. His time as Acting Mayor did cause some controversy, when Menino temporarily appointed Alfreda Harristo to fill a vacancy on the Boston School Committee, then subsequently faced a lawsuit from the Boston Teachers Union. The lawsuit challenged Menino’s powers as Acting Mayor, after Harris cast a decisive vote in the School Committee’s rejection of a teacher contract proposal. However, the judge dismissed the suit for lack of standing. After winning the election that November, Menino made Harris’s appointment permanent, and went on to serve as Boston’s mayor for a record 20 years.
On April 6, Janey announced she would be running for a full term on a bright sunny Tuesday morning in Nubian Square. She will face a challenge from city councilors Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, state representative Jon Santiago, and Boston’s chief of economic development, John Barros, as well as Dana Depelteau, a former hotel manager and Michael J. Bianchi II, a former account manager. Rather than wait until January as is traditionally done, the winner of this election will be sworn in immediately as mayor of Boston.