BOSTON — Acting Mayor Kim Janey — Boston’s first woman and first Black resident to serve in the top post — bid farewell to the office Wednesday, ticking off a series of accomplishments during her brief tenure, including helping the city navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite holding the office for less than a year, Janey marked a dramatic pivot in the city’s long history — a history she found herself thrust into as an 11-year-old when she was bused to a largely white neighborhood during the second phase of Boston’s tumultuous school desegregation era. Rocks and racial slurs were hurled at her bus.
Her rise to the mayor’s office, however brief, reflected a changing city where people of color now make up a majority of the population.
Until Janey, only white men had served as mayor.
“When I was sworn in, following former Mayor (Marty) Walsh’s confirmation as U.S. labor secretary, we were in the midst of a global pandemic and a national reckoning on racial injustice,” Janey said during the address. “It was a time of uncertainty in our country, but Boston stayed strong.”
Janey officially steps down on Tuesday, transferring power to incoming mayor-elect and fellow Democrat Michelle Wu.
As mayor, Janey said she focused on two overarching priorities: “First, to comfort our city through a time of multiple crises and ensure stability. Second, to lead Boston to become the more equitable, just and resilient city that we all deserve.”
Janey ticked off a series of accomplishments, including expanding protections for homeowners and renters with a foreclosure prevention fund; creating a free-bus pilot to help low-income communities of color; establishing mask mandates; supporting asylum-seekers; providing free swimming lessons for children; and providing every public school student with a library card and cancelling all late fees.
“What I love most about Boston is her people: from the small business owners to the seniors; from our veterans to our teachers; from our restaurant workers to our public servants; to ordinary people who do extraordinary things every single day,” she said.
Janey had been president of the Boston City Council before taking over as mayor. She would attempt to use the status of the office in her run to replace Walsh, but failed to garner enough votes to make it past the preliminary election that whittled the field down to two candidates — city councilors Wu and Annissa Essaibi George.
Wu would go on to win that contest, becoming the first woman and first Asian American elected mayor in the city’s long history, a milestone noted by Janey in her farewell.
“While I am proud to be Boston’s first woman mayor and first mayor of color, I am also very proud to know that I will not be the last,” Janey said.
During her short tenure as mayor, Janey confronted a series of challenges.
Faced with navigating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the city came together to distribute vaccines in the hardest-hit neighborhoods including at churches, parks, YMCAs, senior centers and pop-up clinics, she said.
Janey also announced in August that the city’s roughly 18,000 employees would be required to either show proof of vaccination, or submit to regular testing to help slow the spread of the virus. In October, more than 800 city workers were suspended without pay for failing to comply with the mandate.
“Because of our tireless efforts, Boston is one of the most vaccinated big cities in America,” Janey said Wednesday.
She also fired the city’s police commissioner Dennis White after decades-old domestic violence accusations came to light. White had been swiftly elevated to the top police post by Walsh, who later insisted he had no prior knowledge of the accusations and would never have picked White if he did. White called the allegations false.
One of thorniest issues facing Janey was a tent encampment around the area of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, known as Mass and Cass. The encampment became the focal point of the region’s twin crises of opioid addiction and homelessness.
In October Janey declared addiction and homelessness a public health emergency and said the roughly 150 tents that have been set up in the area would be removed. The city also set up a special court for people arrested at the encampment.
Janey said she approached “the dual opioid- and homelessness-crises with a public health lens,”
The move to clear the camp sparked a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. The ACLU argued that the effort is unconstitutional because it doesn’t provide viable alternatives to those living there.