Walsh tapped for Labor secretary, councilors line up for mayoral race
Mayor Martin Walsh has been tapped to serve as labor secretary in the administration of President-elect Joe Biden — a development that will put City Council President Kim Janey in the role of acting mayor.
If confirmed, Walsh’s departure will come after seven years in office, during which the city has seen construction of more new housing units than at any time in recent history and the city’s population grew from 650,000 in 2013 to 694,000 in 2018, according to U.S. Census data.
Boston has also seen tremendous political change, with the City Council shifting from a white-male-dominated body to a majority-women, majority-people-of-color body in 2019. In the past year, Walsh reversed two longstanding positions held by Boston mayors, agreeing to create a civilian review board to investigate allegations of police misconduct and to implement a one-year moratorium on the use of an entrance examination for the city’s selective-admissions high schools.
Amid the changed political landscape, Walsh’s departure will trigger a mayoral election unlike any the city has seen. Last year, at-Large Councilor Michelle Wu and District 4 Councilor Andrea Campbell, announced their candidacies for the mayoral office. At-Large Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George has told The Dorchester Reporter she is considering a run. Others said to be considering a run include Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, state Sen. Nick Collins and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross.
Should Janey decide to run, she could benefit greatly from serving as incumbent mayor, but the timing of Walsh’s departure will determine to what extent. If Walsh is confirmed and leaves before March, his departure, coming within 16 months of the last municipal election, would trigger a special election under Section 13 of the city’s charter. If Walsh departs in March or later, Janey will serve out the remainder of Walsh’s term, giving her time to benefit from the power of incumbency until the fall elections.
A shorter sprint to a special election could advantage Wu and Campbell, who have for months been raising campaign funds and assembling teams. Wu’s most recent filing with the Office of Campaign and Public Finance shows $535,588. Campbell’s shows $513,731, Essaibi-George’s $110,251 and Janey’s $96,965.
In a statement sent to news media Thursday afternoon, Janey did not say whether she would run for the seat but said she looks forward to serving as acting mayor.
“Should Mayor Walsh be confirmed by the Senate, I am ready to take the reins and lead our city through these difficult times,” the statement reads. “I look forward to working with the Walsh administration and my colleagues on the Council to ensure a smooth transition, as we address the unprecedented challenges facing our city.”
Tompkins said the race won’t likely be limited to the four councilors already committed to or considering runs.
“You’re going to see a bunch of people jump in the race,” he said. “The question is, who can raise the funds needed to run.”
The eight candidates who ran in the 2013 race that put Walsh in office included former city councilors John Connolly, Felix G. Arroyo, Rob Consalvo, Charles Yancey and Michael Ross. Other candidates included former state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley and former School Committee member John Barros.
Tompkins did not say he is considering running, but he said the race would benefit from a more diverse slate of candidates.
“I congratulate Kim Janey on becoming the first female mayor in the history of the city,” he said. “And I tip my hat to Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell for running for the office of mayor. And this race would benefit from having a male of color.”
Boston NAACP Branch President Tanisha Sullivan, who said she is not considering a mayoral run, said the open seat presents an opportunity for positive changes in the city.
“I’m looking forward to what lies ahead in the next six to nine months,” she said.
In the 2013 race, Richie was the sole woman running, and no people of color made it past the preliminary. But recent elections have seen women of color beat white male candidates handily. In 2018, then at-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley unseated incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, and Rachael Rollins prevailed in a five-way race for Suffolk County district attorney. Both were the first Black women elected to their positions.
In the coming months and years, the city will likely be struggling through and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and wrestling with the disparities in health care, education and employment that were laid bare over the last year.
Sullivan said the increased representation of women of color could help alleviate disparities in Boston.
“It’s critically important that we seize the opportunity to elect a leader who will work to ensure there’s opportunity here in the city of Boston for all of us,” she said.