Given the hierarchical and largely one-party political control of both Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the churn of executive positions is slow. And the behind-the-scenes jockeying for those posts can last years among those angling to hold the job next.
But on Thursday afternoon the news came quick, bringing with it a major shake-up in New England politics. First, the word that Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo was President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to serve as commerce secretary. Then 26 minutes later, the scoop from Politico that Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was Biden’s pick for labor secretary.
With this week’s pair of Democratic wins in Senate races in Georgia giving them control of the US Senate, confirmation for both Raimondo and Walsh should be assured. The real story, however, will be what their vacancies mean for politics in their home states.
In Rhode Island, a term-limited Raimondo leaving two years early just means that Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee gets a significant leg up in the 2022 elections, assuming he will have already served as the incumbent governor. The same thing happened during the Trump administration when Iowa Governor Terry Branstad took the job of ambassador to China, elevating Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to the top job and killing potential primary bids against her in the process.
In Boston, the news might be more dramatic. Walsh gone means that the two leading candidates for mayor are the two who had already entered the race — Councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell — both of whom would be the first elected female mayor of Boston.
At the same time, they are likely to be met by a whole host of new competition. After all, the last time there was a wide-open race for Boston mayor was in 2013 and that was the first opportunity in a generation. And among those who might have something to say about the job is City Council President Kim Janey, who will take over the mayoral role assuming Walsh goes to Washington. Janey would be the first Black Bostonian and first woman to hold the job.
Leaving local and state politics for a role in a presidential administration is not new in New England, and especially in Massachusetts. And neither move would have the domino effect of changing a bunch of powerful seats around as would have happened if Senator Elizabeth Warren had been tapped for a role in the administration.
At the same time, Biden just made New England politics infinitely more interesting in 2021.