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Mayor Kim Janey sworn in as Boston’s first woman, first Black Mayor

Former City Council President Kim Janey was sworn in as acting Mayor of Boston at City Hall Wednesday, surrounded by close friends and family as she became the first Black person and woman to serve in the role.

kim janey is sworn in as boston mayor at city hall
Boston Mayor Kim Janey’s swearing-in ceremony Monday. Janey is the first woman and first person of color to hold the position. COURTESY OF THE CITY OF BOSTON

During her acceptance speech, Janey emphasized a commitment to disenfranchised communities and those facing difficulties “laid bare” by the COVID-19 pandemic — including affordable housing, fair wages, public transportation and climate change.

“Today is a new day,” Janey said. “I stand before you as the first woman and the first Black mayor of Boston, the city that I love. I come to this day with life experience that is different from the men who came before me.”

The ceremony was chaired by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., the first woman of color to serve on the Boston City Council in 2009.

“It is incredible to consider just how far we have come,” Pressley said. “We have borne witness to a shifting political landscape.”

Hours after the swearing-in ceremony, Janey tweeted: “Hello, Boston! Your Mayor is a Black woman from Roxbury, who rides public transit, speaks Spanish, and makes the best sweet potato pie ever! When’s the last time you could say that?”

The tweet followed an outpouring of support through congratulatory tweets and statements from colleagues on the Boston City Council.

“I’m delighted to congratulate my friend and colleague Kim Janey for making history today as Boston’s first Black and woman Mayor,” City Councilor and mayoral candidate Michelle Wu wrote in an email statement. “Over her decades of activism, she has been a leader focused on uplifting youth and BIPOC voices.”

Janey took office minutes after former Mayor Marty Walsh resigned Monday night — following his confirmation by the U.S. Senate as Secretary of Labor — although the official ceremony came two days later.

As president of Boston’s City Council, Janey will hold the new position until the City’s November election — but she has not yet confirmed whether she plans to run.

Maurice Cunningham, associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said it is likely that Janey will throw her hat in the ring.

“The Boston mayor is a particularly powerful position,” Cunningham said. “She is a longtime activist in the City Council for several years. It seems like a natural progression.”

Cunningham added that Janey will be able to use her incumbency as an advantage in the race.

“She does have a good chance,” he said. “She’ll be able to raise money as a sitting mayor, and she will be able to with policy proposals and so forth, generate news coverage for herself in a way that others can’t.”

Five candidates have confirmed their place in the next mayoral race, with three of the candidates being women of color. The policy agenda in the coming months will likely highlight racial justice, Cunningham said.

Boston’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been plagued by racial disparities, as communities of color face worsened rates of the virus.

“I think certainly to boost vaccination in communities of color as well-off communities is something we’ll see,” Cunningham said. “We’ve recently seen in Boston, a report that businesses led by people of color have a tiny, tiny, tiny portion of business from the city. That should change.”

Catherine Allgor, current president of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the first woman to hold the position, said she sees Mayor Janey as the City’s “latest” female leader of color, rather than the first.

“Black women in Boston have been making political change since the 18th century,” Allgor said, “and they have been drivers of change.”

She noted leaders like Elizabeth Freeman — the first Black woman to file a lawsuit for freedom in Massachusetts and win — all the way to 20th century Black women who fought for school desegregation.

“Even though these women were excluded from political power by law, and by racism, and by custom and all of those barriers, they nonetheless effected change,” Allgor said.

Allgor added that she was glad to see racial inequity gaining nationwide attention and expressed optimism about the new mayor’s swearing-in.

“I think it’s a big step because there’s a story here that’s so optimistic, which is that change can happen in a moment,” she said. “I definitely feel, as a citizen of the Commonwealth and as a historian, that we are living through a time of great, great historical momentum.”

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