City Council President Kim Janey is on the cusp of making history.
In coming weeks, Janey will probably become Boston’s first Black mayor and the first woman to serve in that role, once Mayor Martin J. Walsh leaves City Hall for a post in the Biden administration.
Assessing that development on Friday, Janey, 55, recalled riding a bus as an 11-year-old in the midst of the city’s court-ordered schools desegregation turmoil of the 1970s.
”Experiencing some of the darkest hours in our city as a child and then growing up to be standing here as the first woman and first Black mayor of Boston is just incredibly humbling,” said Janey, whose council district is mostly centered in Roxbury, during a phone interview.
“I’m excited about what that means for our city, what that means for our nation. It’s certainly an indication of how far we have come, but we also have to remember that there is still so much work to do.”
Walsh, who is poised to become the nation’s next labor secretary, is expected to step down once he is confirmed by the Senate. The city charter calls for Janey, as City Council president, to serve as acting mayor until a new mayor is elected later this year.
Once Walsh leaves, Janey will inherit a sizable city operation, one with a $3.61 billion operating budget and a workforce of more than 18,000 employees.
The unusual mayoral transition is already underway. City department heads have begun briefing Janey. She has sat in on conference calls related to Boston’s pandemic response and a recent snowstorm. And Janey has participated in regular, virtual meetings of senior city officials.
“Ensuring continuity of government, especially around the most pressing issues such as our ongoing response to the pandemic, is our greatest priority throughout this transition process,” said Nick Martin, a Walsh spokesman.
In advance of his departure, Walsh has recently made more than two dozen appointments and reappointments to various boards, including filling openings on a scholarship fund committee, a fair housing commission, and the public library board of trustees. Some of the posts are unpaid; some pay a stipend. A Walsh spokesman said the mayor has been trying to fill vacant seats, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, to make sure the boards are fully able to serve local residents. “We are working to ensure the continuity of government operations,” he said.
And Janey batted away any suggestion that Walsh is rushing to fill seats before he leaves to undermine her acting mayoralty, saying “Obviously, there is one mayor at a time.”
Janey has already hired a mayoral transition director: Gustavo Quiroga, a 36-year-old Jamaica Plain resident who is part of the leadership team at Graffito SP, a real estate and retail consulting firm.
On Friday, Janey released a longer list of people who are advising her, a list that includes two other female Massachusetts mayors of color: Framingham’s Yvonne Spicer and Cambridge’s Sumbul Siddiqui. The transition team also includes Linda Dorcena Forry, a former state senator who is now an executive at Suffolk Construction; former state treasurer Steve Grossman; Quincy Miller, president of Eastern Bank; Betty Francisco, cofounder of the civic advocacy group Amplify Latinx; and Kate Walsh, chief executive of Boston Medical Center Health System.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, Janey said implementing measures that will help businesses reopen and employees safely return to work, and bringing students back to in-person learning will be important aspects of her job as acting mayor. She also wants to ensure people across the city receive a vaccine to help end the pandemic.
”We need to make sure that there is equitable access to the vaccine but also confidence in the vaccine so that people are willing to take the vaccine,” she said.
The last time a City Council president became acting mayor after the city’s executive was tapped for a federal post was in 1993, when Raymond Flynn left to be ambassador to the Vatican and Thomas Menino took his place in the City Hall corner office. At that time, there was some friction between the two pols over perceived lack of communication and cooperation. By contrast, Janey said the Walsh administration has been “accessible and helpful.”
Janey acknowledged there will probably be additional turnover at City Hall during the transition, saying she has asked for clarity about “who exactly will be leaving.” She did not name names.
There has already been a recent shake-up at the Boston Police Department. Commissioner William Gross abruptly retired last week and his successor, Dennis White, was placed on leave two days after he was sworn in, following the Globe’s questions about a domestic abuse allegation from 1999. Superintendent-in-chief Gregory Long is now the acting commissioner.
On Friday, Janey said she is deeply concerned about the allegation, adding that it is important to allow the independent investigation into the situation to run its course.
“I will see what comes of that,” Janey said.
Janey also said she wants to make sure the city’s next operating budget, already in the works under Walsh, “helps us get toward a much more equitable city.”
How much impact Janey, as acting mayor, could have on longer-term issues, such as problems with the city’s schools or Boston’s housing crisis, is very much an open question. On Friday, she deflected when asked about where she would break from Walsh administration policy.
”I want my transition process to run its course,” she said. “There is obviously some good work we can build upon and perhaps there are other things we may do, but we’ll have plenty of time for those conversations.”
Janey is known for her educational advocacy. Before she was elected to the council in 2017, she was a senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, where she pushed for systemic policy reform.
Walsh’s impending departure has opened up the race for mayor. A popular incumbent, Walsh was expected to run for a third term before President Biden chose him for the labor secretary post. Three of Janey’s council colleagues — Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, and Michelle Wu — have declared their mayoral bids. Other city leaders, including state Representative Jon Santiago and John Barros, the city’s economic development chief, are said to be preparing for runs. A Dorchester resident, Dana Depelteau, has also filed state paperwork for a campaign.
Janey has yet to say whether she intends to seek a full mayoral term, and did not tip her hand on Friday.
“I am focused on this transition,” she said.