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Barros makes it official, joins Boston mayor’s race

Says he’s the ‘right candidate to help Boston meet the challenges of this moment’

John Barros was surrounded by his family as he made his announcement Thursday at the Bowdoin-Geneva restaurant he co-owns.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

John F. Barros, the city’s chief of economic development for the past seven years, officially launched his campaign for mayor Thursday, saying he has the experience and skill set to help Boston respond, recover, and reopen after the pandemic.

Barros, who ran unsuccessfully in 2013, joins four other mayoral candidates in the race: City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, and Michelle Wu, and state Representative Jon Santiago, who is also an emergency room physician.

Barros’s entrance into the race comes as Karilyn Crockett, the city’s first equity chief and a possible mayoral candidate, turned in her resignation letter earlier this week.


Barros stepped into a diverse contest in which the declared candidates thus far have identified as either Black, Latino, Asian, or Arab American. On Thursday, he announced his candidacy at the Bowdoin-Geneva restaurant he co-owns during an event live-streamed on Facebook. He was joined by supporters and family members, including his wife, Tchintcia, and their four children — John Jr., 8, Jeremiah, 7, Casey, 4, and Olivia, 2 — and his mother, Catarina “Teca” Barros.

“Boston is ready for a candidate of color,” Barros said. “Boston’s ready for a Black man like me to be mayor. [People are] asking questions about how we can unite this city. They’re asking about how we embrace our diversity. So it’s a special day in the city.”

Conan Harris, who was in Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s Cabinet along with Barros, said he became “brothers” with Barros during their time at City Hall.

“I’ve been able to see John Barros in the board room doing the great work and in the streets working with residents and businesses, moving our community forward,’' Harris said during Barros’s announcement.

Barros said he is entering the race as an executive who has helped to keep the city humming, led efforts to preserve struggling small businesses, and helped unemployed workers crushed by the pandemic.


He highlighted his history in grass-roots organizing, running a nonprofit, and serving as a top Cabinet official, saying the experiences make him best positioned to lead the city.

“I’m running because I believe I am the right candidate to help Boston meet the challenges of this moment,” Barros said in an interview Wednesday.

He added that he will put his record up against any of the other candidates, noting his lifelong commitment on key issues like equity, fairness, and safety.

“I am ready to be mayor today,” he said.

Walsh is expected to be confirmed soon as US labor secretary, and Council President Kim Janey will serve as acting mayor. She has not yet said if she will run for mayor.

Dorchester resident Dana Depelteau, who is unemployed, has also filed paperwork with the state to run for mayor.

Barros, 47, grew up off Dudley Street in Roxbury and is the son of Cape Verdean immigrants. He excelled in school, graduated from an Ivy League college, and landed in big business in Manhattan. In 2010, he became the first person of Cape Verdean descent to serve on the Boston School Committee.

He came in sixth in the 2013 preliminary contest for mayor, and went to work in the Walsh administration.

Barros said he also plans to prioritize climate change, equity and inclusion, particularly around affordable housing, and support for schools and families. He said he would target the embattled Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, calling it “a gem” that needs to be supported and nurtured.


Barros also said he is proud to have led a city disparity study that showed scant city spending on contracts awarded to Black, Latino, and white women business owners. He pushed back at critics who said the Walsh administration did not do enough to move those numbers.

Barros noted that the data was not new and pointed to a 2003 disparity study on the same topic that highlighted the same shortcomings, but was inconclusive. He said the city did not have clean and clear data to address the critical questions and satisfy the legal definition of substantial disparity.

That has now changed with the study, Barros said, and a set of goals set by Walsh last month that aims to steer more contracts to women and people of color.

“We had to make sure that the work that we did was going to . . . put the city [on the right track],’' Barros said. “I’m proud of the fact that we have the right tool. I’m proud that the mayor signed an executive order with aggressive goals . . . for the City of Boston with a clear mandate and that we’re going to have reporting and accountability.”

Barros launched his first campaign at the Haley House, a small business in Nubian Square. On Thursday, he made his announcement at another small business — Restaurante Cesaria, which he co-owns with one of his brothers and a cousin.


Like many small businesses, the restaurant has felt the pinch of the pandemic, and some managers went without pay for stretches, Barros said.

“We felt it during the pandemic, like everyone else. These are tough times‚’’ Barros said, noting the conversations he has had with small business owners who have had to close and workers who have lost their jobs. “I felt the pain.”

He described his first mayoral campaign as an uphill battle, because he had to work hard introducing himself to a vast swath of the city while also making the case that he could be the chief executive. But after eight years in the Walsh administration, Barros said, he will effectively make the case that he has the government experience unmatched by anyone else in the race thus far.

Danny McDonald of Globe staff contributed to this story.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.