In the nearly 200 years since the job of Boston Mayor was created, 54 white men filled the role of top city executive. Kim Janey changed that last Wednesday.
Former Boston City Council President Kim Janey was sworn in as the 55th mayor of Boston last Wednesday following the confirmation of Marty Walsh, BC ’09, as Labor Secretary on Tuesday. https://t.co/xETmiKV7cz
— The Heights (@bcheights) March 29, 2021
Janey shattered two historic barriers when she became acting mayor of Boston. She is both the first woman and the first person of color to lead the city.
Janey, a Black woman was elevated from city council president to the city’s top executive position after Marty Walsh resigned immediately to become U.S. Labor Secretary in President Joe Biden’s cabinet. His resignation came swiftly following the U.S Senate’s confirmation of his nomination.
“It’s hard to overstate the very significance of inaugurating a woman of color as acting mayor of Boston,” said Amanda Hunter, the executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which advocates for women in politics. “ We have exclusively had white, male mayors leading this city for nearly 200 years, “ this despite the city becoming more and more diverse.”
For at least two decades, most residents have been non-white or Hispanic. Also women outnumber men in Boston, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
It’s a time for everyone to celebrate Janey’s historic glass-ceiling breakthrough. Deanna Cook certainly is. Cook met Janey when she and her twin sister were continuously being sent to detention for wearing extensions in their hair at school.
Hair extensions are popular among young Black girls but violated a culturally-demeaning dress code that was of course set by “predominantly white administrators,” Cook said. “We basically had no representation, we had such a hard time getting the policy overturned, mainly because those in charge didn’t care to understand and also didn’t care.”
At the particular time, Janey worked at the nonprofit Massachusetts Advocates For Children. It was in that role, she argued the ban of hair extensions was discriminatory and helped the Cook sisters change the dress code at the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Maiden. This victory helped propel Janey to a seat on the city council a few months later.
Janey’s new role as acting mayor has excited the Black community and especially Cook, now a sophomore at UMass Amherst, who said the entire city of Boston has suffered from the same lack of diversity in leadership that her old high school did.
Janey can make a difference citywide, which would be a welcome sight and feeling in Boston with its long history of racial division and police oppression. Janey, who knows what it’s like to be the little Black girl in a classroom, is now in charge and can make positive changes from experience, and institute policies that will affect the more diverse crowd as well as others.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey is getting right to work providing free Charlie cards to hard-hit neighborhoods:
— MA WomensPoliCaucus (@MWPC) March 29, 2021
“In no way, shape, or form do I believe she’ll upend Boston politics, because she and Walsh were in agreeance on many views. But having a mayor who reflects so many residents can be an asset during the pandemic recovery,” said Hunter of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.
Janey will remain in the acting mayor role until a new mayor is sworn into office following the fall election. Janey has less than four years on the city council, making her still relatively new when it comes to politics. If she does decide to run for mayor she’ll have some stiff competition from three fellow council members.
At this time she hasn’t announced her intentions as it pertains to running for mayor, yet in many ways some believe she’s been preparing herself for this moment for decades.
Known as a hard worker, who grinds daily, many believed the opportunity would eventually come for her. Many also believe she’s an ally to the mayor’s seat, but they’re also realistic about how much work lies ahead in the near future.
Janey’s appointment could be the start of a new way of thinking about political leadership, but in reality it still doesn’t cleanse the palate of Boston’s long-standing systemic and institutional racism.