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Kim Janey reflects on short, but historic time as Boston’s mayor

Acting Mayor Kim Janey, in the mayor's office at Boston City Hall. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Acting Mayor Kim Janey, in the mayor's office at Boston City Hall. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey will leave the mayor’s office in City Hall next Tuesday, ending her short but historic leadership of the city.

In some ways, the room inside City Hall still looks the way former Mayor Marty Walsh left it after he went to Washington D.C. to become President Biden’s labor secretary. The James Michael Curley desk, ornately carved out of mahogany, anchors the space. In front of it, four large screens display the most current data about the city, from stabbings to trash pickups.

But in many other ways, Janey made the space her own.

There’s a bold, abstract painting of Michelle Obama hanging directly behind her desk. A chess set from her mother. A piece of stone from her Roxbury neighborhood.

“It was important to me to open up the space,” Janey said, “… to bring people in who historically have been left out and felt left out of power and not able to access the mayor’s office, or their only interaction with City Hall is a negative interaction when they’re paying off a bill.”

Now, as Janey makes way for the second woman and person of color to sit in the office, Mayor-elect Michelle Wu, she is assessing her time as acting mayor and her place in history — from being a Black kid who was bused to a white neighborhood in the 1970s, to being a grandmother who shattered what may have been Boston’s highest glass ceiling.

“I am reflecting on the work that we were able to do, and it’s been a lot in a very short period of time,” she said in a sit-down interview with WBUR. “Whether that was COVID, whether that is the reckoning on racial injustice in our country, [we were] focusing on issues that matter to the people of Boston, like housing and public safety, and making historic strategic investments for our future. I’m proud of the work that we’ve been able to do in such a short period of time.”

The city has been run by white men for the past 200 years. Janey’s eight months as acting mayor broke that long legacy and allowed for a new perspective in City Hall.

“For me, my lived experiences, the things that I’ve been able to overcome, I think has made a profound difference in terms of how I lead and govern and the things that I was hoping to accomplish using an equity lens and all that we do,” she said. “It was never about kind of going back to some normal — when that normal was hurting people, that normal was leaving people out.”

Janey said she sometimes met resistance to her agenda.

“Not everyone is excited about change, particularly when you are part of a power structure and you are enjoying what that means to be part of that power structure,” she said. “It doesn’t mean, though, that we give up — you just you keep pushing, you keep being willing to have the conversation, being willing to work with folks. But change doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t come overnight. It certainly wasn’t just going to come in eight months, but we’ve been able to do a lot in the eight months.”

Racism doesn’t go away because you have a Black mayor, and sexism doesn’t go away because the mayor is a woman, Janey said.

“Those issues persist. And it’s important to kind of brush yourself off, get up and keep pushing forward. And that’s what I’ve always done my whole life,” she said. “I’ve had no choice as a Black woman.”

Janey was one of five frontrunners in the mayoral preliminary race in September. She came in fourth place, barely behind third-place finisher Andrea Campbell. The three Black candidates were eliminated from the race during the preliminary election.

She said the loss stung.

“It was very difficult. And, you know, I guess I hadn’t lost an election before, either … I am grateful for what has been the honor of my life to serve as mayor, particularly given how difficult, you know, how many challenges that there were. For whatever reason, I was called to be the person to serve in that role and to make history while doing it.”

Now, she’ll hand over the reins on Nov. 16 to Wu, who will make history herself as Boston’s first elected female mayor, and mayor of color.

Janey plans to return to the City Council in December. She isn’t saying what she’ll do after her replacement is sworn in in January.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 WBUR. To see more, visit WBUR.

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