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Janey delivers farewell address

Anna Lamb

At Hibernian Hall in Roxbury last Wednesday night, acting Mayor Kim Janey closed out her historic tenure as Boston’s 55th mayor and as the first woman and person of color to lead the city.

Speaking to a room packed with supporters, government officials and press, Janey reflected on her time in office and the ongoing challenges facing Boston. She spoke about the coronavirus pandemic and her efforts to distribute the vaccine, her efforts to increase housing stability, her commitment to public art and culture through her “joy agenda,” her work on public safety, and even her controversial approach to the ongoing addiction and public health crisis on Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

“Addressing the challenges of our city takes courage and commitment, because these issues can only be solved when we all work together to create systemic change. From managing a public health crisis to confronting institutional racism, we have achieved historic milestones together,” Janey said.

And when she went to thank those who made it possible, the acting mayor shed some tears.

“All of the work that we’ve been able to do is because of my amazing team,” Janey said, her voice cracking. “My deepest appreciation [goes] to my cabinet chief, department heads and to each and every one of the city’s 18,000 employees. Working with you over the last eight months has been an honor.”

Acting Mayor Kim Janey and Mayor-elect Michelle Wu. Mayor’s Office photo by Isabel Leon

The former District 7 city councilor and council president made several strides during her time in the mayor’s office. Under her leadership, vaccination rates have continued to increase, violent crime has decreased, and a real emphasis has been put on making Boston a more equitable city that reflects its increasing diversity.

In office less than a year, Janey created impactful initiatives, including a first-time homebuyers grant program, a green jobs training program, the Route 28 free bus line and her “Mass and Cass” tent removal policy, which, she said, “connected close to 70 people to housing, shelter and residential treatment” in its first week, with no arrests.

A “daughter of Roxbury,” as Rev. Willie Bodrick lovingly called her during his invocation, Janey became a symbol of progress for many in Boston. She brought the perspective and interests of her neighborhood into an office that has been held exclusively by white men.

According to Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley who watched Janey’s speech from the audience, Janey’s appointment is, and should be remembered as, an important part of the city’s history.

“I think what’s important now is just that the history get it right, and that there is no erasure of her exemplary leadership during a time of unprecedented hardship and crisis,” Pressley said.

City Councilor Riccardo Arroyo, who was also among the elected officials of color in the audience at Hibernian Hall, was emotional as he reflected on the impact of Janey’s legacy.

“Having the first Black woman mayor and seeing young children of color see a mayor who looks like them, and know that that could be done, is going to transcend whatever amount of time she had in that seat,” he said.

Arroyo added that he thinks the incoming mayor, Michelle Wu, is continuing the precedent set by Janey.

“At my birthday event, I had a young child who wanted to wait to meet with Michelle Wu because Michelle looked like her,” Arroyo said. “And I think there’s a remarkable gift that they’re giving just by existing.”

Wu will continue more than just the symbolism of Janey’s mayorship. She plans to continue and expand the free Route 28 bus and Janey’s work cracking down on police abuse and fraud and will inherit a recovering city economy.

Pressley said, “And I know that Michelle will continue that with transformative visionary leadership, and she will do that work cooperatively in partnership with community.” 

In Janey’s farewell speech, she expressed faith in Wu’s leadership abilities.

“I know she will lift up those who have been left out of power, and she will build upon my equity and justice work, and she won’t be afraid to tackle wrongs and big problems,” she said.

Wu presented her predecessor with flowers after the speech.

As for next steps, Janey said she’ll be taking a step back from public life for a moment, in favor of “rest, reflection and writing.”

“I’m going to do some travel,” she told the Banner. “I will continue to be available and be a resource as needed. I love my city. I’m not going anywhere. I will continue to do the work that I’ve always done, because it hasn’t been about titles for me and that’s to leave this place better than how I found it.”

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