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Mayor Walsh steps down after confirmation as labor secretary

Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke earlier this month.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke earlier this month.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Mayor Martin J. Walsh resigned at 9 p.m. Monday, hours after he was confirmed as President Biden’s secretary of labor by a US Senate vote of 68 to 29, and he said he would not put his thumb on the scale when voters elect a successor this fall.

With Walsh’s resignation, Council President Kim Janey makes history as Boston’s first Black mayor and first female mayor. Janey, a 55-year-old former education advocate from Roxbury, has scheduled a ceremonial swearing-in for Wednesday.

Walsh said at a farewell news conference at Faneuil Hall earlier Monday evening that he would travel to Washington on Tuesday morning to be sworn in.

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“I’m deeply grateful to President Biden, Vice President Harris, and their confidence in me for this opportunity to serve our country in this time of need,” said Walsh, a 53-year-old Dorchester Democrat and popular incumbent who is now in the last year of his second term. “I share their commitment to building an economy that works for every single American.

As he leaves City Hall, Walsh is also stepping away from the biggest question in Boston politics: Who should be the next mayor?

Walsh said at the news conference that he would not play a role in the race to replace him. He knows all the candidates personally, he said, and believes “there’s no place for me to be involved.”

This year’s mayoral race already includes a field of five major candidates: City Councilors Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell, and Annissa Essaibi George; John Barros, who is Walsh’s former economic development chief; and state Representative Jon Santiago.

Janey is among the names rumored to be considering jumping into that mayoral fray. For now, she will serve as the city’s executive at least until a winner emerges from this fall’s municipal election and is sworn in.

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Walsh also suggested that he does not plan to run for governor of Massachusetts in 2022, saying, “I think I’ll be in Washington.”

Walsh said he had previously planned to seek a third term as mayor — though he had not officially announced his candidacy — and had already begun buying campaign materials.

“We ordered new bumper stickers,” he said. “So if you want a bumper sticker [I can give you] a good price on an old Marty Walsh bumper sticker.”

Walsh became emotional as he reflected on being “a kid who grew up on Taft Street in Dorchester, from a family whose parents ... immigrated to this country. Being elected mayor of Boston was a dream for me.”

Walsh’s voice quavered later as he praised city officials and employees for their work, especially their response to the coronavirus pandemic, which he said “brought the best out in our city.”

“I want to thank each and every city employee. I love all of you. You do amazing work,” he said. “We might not always hear about the work you do, but I know the work you do every single day, keeping our city great.”

In early January, President Biden tapped Walsh, a longtime friend and former union president, for the cabinet post.

Walsh said he has been coordinating with Janey, departments across city government, and local institutions and nonprofits for the past two months to ensure a smooth transition.

”And I am confident — more than confident — that city government will move forwards very smoothly, from the daily services that our residents rely on, to our COVID response, to public safety, to the many long-term capital improvements that we have launched across all of our different neighborhoods here in the city of Boston,” he said.

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In his resignation letter, Walsh wrote that his seven years as mayor had been “the honor of my life and a dream come true for a child of immigrants who grew up in our city.”

“When I was first inaugurated, I said I would listen, I would learn, and I would lead together with the people of Boston, and that’s what we’ve done,” he wrote.

He also touted his administration’s efforts in creating quality jobs and affordable housing, addressing systemic racism, and expanding educational opportunities.

“We invested in our young people, funding universal, high-quality pre-kindergarten; new and fully renovated school buildings across our city; and free community college for low-income students,” Walsh wrote. “We led the nation in climate action to protect our city and our planet. We strengthened health and quality of life in our communities with historic investments in parks, libraries, streets, sidewalks, bike and bus lanes.”

As Walsh heads to Washington, he is taking over a department that oversees a raft of federal labor laws, including those covering overtime, workers’ compensation, and workplace health and safety for more than 150 million workers.

Union officials have cheered the prospect of a lifelong union member taking over the post, especially after bruising battles with the Trump administration over the past four years.

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Walsh was 21 when he became a member of the Laborers’ Union Local 223 in Boston, which his father had joined in the 1950s after emigrating from Ireland and his uncle later led. Walsh, who was a state representative for 16 years, went on to also serve as president of the union, then was the head of the Building and Construction Trades Council. When he first ran for mayor in 2013, unions fueled his campaign with financial contributions and volunteers.

Walsh is not the first Boston mayor to hold the labor secretary post. Maurice J. Tobin, whose name graces the Tobin Bridge connecting Boston to Chelsea, served as secretary of labor under President Harry Truman.




Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.