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Biden weighing Walsh for Labor secretary

Mayor one of 3-4 finalists for post, say people familiar with the process

Mayor Martin J. Walsh and President-elect Joe Biden have known each other for years.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh and President-elect Joe Biden have known each other for years.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh appears to be one of three or four people under consideration to be the next Labor secretary, according to two people familiar with the process, in a potential nomination that could send yet another Massachusetts leader to Washington to serve in the Biden administration and upend next year’s mayoral election.

One of the people familiar with the selection process told the Globe that Walsh, a former union president who has served as mayor for almost seven years, is “one of a handful of finalists” who remain in the running for the job.

Politico reported earlier Wednesday that Walsh is among those being considered, citing his long relationship with the incoming president, but the report cautioned that Joe Biden may ultimately choose another candidate as he continues to build a diverse Cabinet.

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Walsh, 53, has reportedly been a favored choice among union leaders, and Bloomberg News reported last month that AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka sought the support of other union leaders in endorsing Walsh for the job. Walsh, who served as a state representative and president of the Laborers’ Union Local 223 in Boston before becoming mayor, has relied on support from organized labor throughout his political career.

But Biden has pledged to make diversity a centerpiece of his Cabinet, and has so far made several historic picks, including retired General Lloyd Austin, who would be the first Black person to lead the Pentagon; Alejandro Mayorkas, who would be the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security; and Janet Yellen, who would be the first woman to head the Treasury Department.

The Labor secretary is charged with helping oversee federal employment rules on everything from overtime to workplace safety, affecting more than 150 million workers. While the Trump administration has generally tried to take an industry-friendly approach to enforcing the rules, the Biden administration is widely expected to take a tougher approach on businesses.

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Besides Walsh, other names floated for the post include Michigan Representative and former union organizer Andy Levin; California Labor and Workforce Development Agency Secretary Julie Su; Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont; Seth D. Harris, who served as deputy secretary of labor in the Obama administration; and Patrick Gaspard, a former adviser to President Barack Obama who began his career as a union organizer.

Walsh said via a text on Wednesday that he had no news to share regarding his possible nomination. But rumors about a possible role in the Biden administration have swirled around City Hall ever since Biden was elected president. The Dorchester Democrat has repeatedly tried to deflect questions about the possibility, maintaining that he loves the job he has and remains focused on Boston’s challenges.

If Walsh does leave for a job in the Biden administration, the race for Boston mayor would be open for the first time since 2013, when Thomas M. Menino declined to seek a sixth term, which opened the floodgates to a dozen candidates. Walsh ultimately won that election after a runoff.

Two city councilors have already declared their intention to compete for the job next year, Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell. But Walsh was widely expected to run for a third term and challengers have historically had a difficult time defeating Boston mayors seeking reelection. An incumbent mayor hasn’t lost in Boston since the 1940s.

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Meanwhile, Walsh’s campaign fund-raising juggernaut rolled on last month, with the mayor raising more than $323,000, far outpacing the campaigns of Wu and Campbell. His campaign expenditures for November did little to quell the speculation that he is running, as Walsh’s campaign spent more than $103,000. His campaign now has nearly $6 million cash on hand, according to state records.

Steven Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, said Walsh is living his dream as the mayor of Boston, and doubted he would give up the post for a job in Washington.

“He’s wanted his whole life to be mayor,” said Tolman, a friend and former State House colleague of Walsh. “He’s attained that. I don’t know why he would rush out of that. It’s a dream job.”

Tolman said he thought being Boston’s mayor was a better job than Labor secretary, although he thought Walsh would make a successful one.

“I don’t know how you could have a better job,” he said of the Boston mayoralty.

Peter Ubertaccio, a political scientist and dean of arts and sciences at Stonehill College, thought it was important for Biden to make sure his Cabinet adequately represents the diversity of the country and the Democratic Party. But he also noted that Walsh, who has worked on construction sites and whose father worked as a laborer, could help Biden connect the party to its working class roots.

”We haven’t seen someone quite like that in a while,” as Labor secretary, Ubertaccio said.

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If Biden asks Walsh to take the job, Ubertaccio said, it might be hard for Walsh to decline. ”It’s awfully difficult to say no to a president who thinks highly of you,” he said.

And if Walsh does take a post in the Biden administration, it would likely have a seismic effect on Boston politics, sparking a torrent of new candidates to run for mayor, Ubertaccio said.

”We would see many people running for this office,” he said.

One factor that could help Walsh land a job in the Biden administration is that he has known the president-elect for years.

Biden attended Walsh’s swearing-in for his second term, and hailed him as “a mayor who will never forget where he came from.” Walsh, in turn, campaigned for Biden and helped champion his economic plan in New Hampshire last summer.

Biden has also tapped a number of other Massachusetts officials for posts in his administration, including former senator and secretary of state John Kerry, who is set to join the administration as a climate czar on the National Security Council; Massachusetts General Hospital’s infectious diseases chief, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who will lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Canton native Gina McCarthy, who will join the administration as a White House climate coordinator. Plus, several top Biden aides have Massachusetts ties, including his incoming deputy chief of staff, Jen O’Malley Dillon.

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Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.