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Janey takes office as city’s first Black, first woman mayor

City faces COVID pandemic, push for racial equality

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Janey takes office as city’s first Black, first woman mayor
Kim Janey assumed office Tuesday following outgoing Mayor Martin Walsh’s confirmation as Secretary of Labor in the administration of PHOTO: Angela Rowlings

Kim Janey made history this week when she was sworn in as acting mayor of Boston, becoming the first African American and the first woman to hold the office.

On Tuesday, her first full day in office, Janey spent the day in meetings with key City Hall staff. She faces a global pandemic, pressure from the state to reopen schools full-time, struggling small businesses and demands that the city respond to calls for equity that have been percolating during a year of racial unrest.

In a statement sent to news media, Janey said she is prepared to take on the challenges facing the city.

“In the days ahead, partnering together, we will focus on recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, safely reopening our city and renewing our communities,” she said. “And, as we reopen, we will take the steps to become a more equitable, more joyful, more resilient Boston.”

Though she won’t have full mayoral power, Janey can sign ordinances into city law, make temporary appointments to city agencies and make decisions affecting issues citywide.

In remarks delivered during the Boston Municipal Research Bureau’s annual meeting March 11, Janey said she will continue efforts Walsh undertook to tackle inequality as the city grapples with the COVID pandemic.

“Patterns of disproportionate impact cannot persist,” she said. “As we roll out vaccines, we are actively developing programs to deliver them more equitably.” That includes mobile vaccination clinics.

Massachusetts is entering Phase 4, Step 1 of reopening as of Monday, March 22, removing the travel order that requires out-of-state visitors to quarantine, and allowing large and small entertainment and sports venues to reopen at limited capacity.

Boston will enter a modified version of the state’s Phase 4 on Monday. Indoor recreational activities with greater potential for contact, like roller skating and laser tag, can reopen. Movie theaters and live performance venues can open at 50% capacity and Fenway Park can reopen at 12% capacity. Boston won’t move past this phase until the city remains below a 2.75% COVID-19 positivity rate for two consecutive weeks.

This step forward received backlash from some state representatives and more than 20 organizations, including the Massachusetts Public Health Association.

In Boston, Janey will be dealing with the controversial choice to help the economy by removing business restrictions during a time where COVID-19 cases remain high. Suffolk county remains at high risk for contracting the virus, with about 23 cases per 100,000.

Racial disparities

In her remarks to the Municipal Research Bureau, Janey said that systemic racism is one of the most urgent issues facing the city.

“Healing includes beginning to address the trauma of the dual devastation of COVID-19 and the reckoning of racial injustice, by tapping into our collective joy,” she said, and stressed the importance of moving forward in equity.

Civil rights activists echo these sentiments, including legal expert Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. He is calling on Janey to be responsive to racial justice matters in the wake of police violence concerns and inequities in minority business contracts.

“There are these issues that remain unsolved,” Espinoza-Madrigal told the Banner. “We did not need a disparity study to confirm that we know the extent of the exclusion that we have suffered from municipal contracting opportunities. In the policing arena, we’ve dedicated so much time and attention as a city to talking about police reform.”

He says he has seen a lot of talk among city officials, but not enough action. Janey has a chance to move reforms forward, he said, including the recommendations of the city’s police reform task force. As those recommendations become ordinances in the City Council, or home rule petitions come back from the State House, Janey will be responsible for carrying them out.

“Over the past few administrations, the bottom line is that racial justice and civil rights issues have remained an afterthought,” Espinoza-Madrigal said. Janey now has the chance, as a woman of color in the mayor’s office, to infiltrate what Espinoza-Madrigal calls the “old boys network.”

Helping businesses

Recent news about the city’s lack of contracts for Black- and Latino-owned businesses sparked a conversation about Boston’s Black economy. The Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA) responded with advice to the mayor on how to help people of color — recommendations that are now under Janey’s discretion.

BECMA Executive Director Segun Idowu said the city should enhance its partnerships with organizations like BECMA, Amplify Latinx, CommonWealth Kitchen and other small-business support organizations.

“This partnership should not only utilize these organizations as vessels of information-sharing for their business members, but each should be relied on to inform policy and programmatic decisions, as well as be the agencies [to which] the city directs small businesses in need of support,” Idowu said.

In her remarks to the Municipal Research Bureau, Janey mentioned that she will be working with Main Streets organizations to help businesses struggling with the digital divide between them and their customers.

“We will design additional programs in the months ahead. Reopening our city also means supporting the people who make our city run,” she said.

The expectation is now on her to prioritize minority contractors and ensure that they are included in the process.

“We can no longer be satisfied with awarding one-time $5,000 or $10,000 contracts to small minority firms,” Idowu said. “There must be intention and the removal of barriers in connecting our firms to lucrative multi-year contracts at much higher percentages than was achieved by the Walsh Administration.”

In her media statement, Janey cited her Boston roots, making the case that she is ready to take on the challenges facing City Hall.

“This is the city I love,” she said. “This is the city where I have been a student and a parent, an organizer and an advocate, a city councilor and the City Council president. I am proud to continue my work with you, as your mayor.