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On her first day as acting mayor, Kim Janey visits Charlestown school where she was bused

Acting Mayor Kim Janey said her administration will focus on recovering from the pandemic by “renewing our communities.”
Acting Mayor Kim Janey said her administration will focus on recovering from the pandemic by “renewing our communities.”Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Decades ago, the morning arrival at the squat, brick school building just off Main Street in Charlestown was a source of pain and trauma for Kim Janey.

This is where she was bused to, sometimes under police escort, from her South End home as part of the tumultuous desegregation of the city’s schools during the 1970s.

The return Tuesday morning was far more joyful, when Janey entered Edwards Middle School not as a scared child but as Boston’s first Black mayor and first female mayor. It was her inaugural public event since she became the city’s acting executive Monday night, following the resignation of Martin J. Walsh, who hours earlier was confirmed as US labor secretary.

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Her presence at that school at this historic milestone in Boston’s history captured the progress the city she loves has made in her lifetime.

“To be able to see schoolchildren today engaged in their learning and being supported by their teachers, I think it’s really important to show how far we have come as a city,” said Janey, surrounded by a welcoming committee that included Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius outside the school’s main entrance.

She added, “I wanted to start here.”

After stepping out of a black SUV into the crisp and sunny morning, Janey said the school, which was built in the 1930s and will close after this school year ends, “has tough, tough memories for me.”

“But this is a new day in Boston,” she said.

It was a symbolic start for Janey, 55, of Roxbury, who was serving her second term as a city councilor, and her second year as council president, when she made history by becoming acting mayor. She will officially be sworn in on Wednesday, in a ceremony that will be streamed live on Boston.gov beginning at 11:45 a.m.

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Her life is already being be transformed. The city councilor known for riding the bus through Nubian Square now has a police driver and a private elevator to a spacious office on the fifth floor of City Hall, overlooking Faneuil Hall.

Throughout the day Tuesday, Bostonians celebrated Janey’s historic ascension as Boston’s 55th mayor, taking to social media to congratulate her on the honor. Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston, who a decade ago became the city’s first Black woman city councilor and served briefly with Janey before becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, took note of the milestone on Twitter: “Concrete. Ceiling. Shattered,” wrote Pressley, who will attend the swearing-in.

Just after noon, City Hall sent out its first e-mail from “Mayor Janey.” In it, the acting mayor declared, “This is the city I love. This is the city where I have been a student and a parent, an organizer and an advocate, a City Councilor and the City Council President. I am proud to continue my work with you, as your Mayor.”

In the coming days, Janey said, her administration will focus on recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic by reopening businesses “and renewing our communities.”

“And, as we reopen, we will take the steps to become a more equitable, more joyful, more resilient Boston,” she said. “This transition comes at a moment of strength.”

In the days leading up to Walsh’s departure, Janey had commissioned a committee to help facilitate her transition from the council to the mayor’s office, and several key Walsh staffers will remain in her administration, including Chris Osgood, the former chief of streets who will now serve as her chief of staff.

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In addition to the response to the COVID pandemic, several key policy decisions are looming. Janey will have to consider the future of Dennis White, whom Walsh appointed police commissioner in January and then suspended days later after the Globe inquired into domestic violence allegations made against him two decades ago. White has remained on leave while an independent investigator has probed the matter.

Additionally, Janey will oversee the city’s efforts to increase the number of city contracts that go to women and minority vendors, following a study that found significant disparities in the way the contracts are handed out. Janey helped lead the push for the study, as a councilor.

And, already, the community beckons: The Lawyers for Civil Rights sent out an e-mail Tuesday morning — Janey had barely finished her breakfast — laying out a “Blueprint for Racial Justice for Mayor Janey.”

Throughout the day Tuesday, according to aides, Janey began meeting with Cabinet chiefs, her staff, and other City Hall workers to officially start the transition. Later in the day, she conducted a walk-through of her swearing-in ceremony and began rehearsing her speech.

But she chose to start her day touring the school, where she spoke about what she considered to be the school district’s most immediate challenges.

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“Right now, we want to make sure we are getting schoolchildren safely back in their classrooms with their teachers, with their peers,” said Janey, who spent years as an educational advocate before her election to the City Council in 2017. “We also have to make sure we are making up for time lost in the classroom, and so I’ll be working with the superintendent and her team to make sure we do just that.”

The day prior, Boston school officials announced they will seek state approval to delay a return of full-time in-person learning in the district’s elementary schools on April 5. They say they remain committed to bringing students back to classrooms five days a week later in the month.

General education students began returning to classrooms part time this month, with students in preschool through grade 3 arriving starting the week of March 1 and students in grades 4-8 returning starting the week of March 15. High school students are slated to come back starting the week of March 29. Parents will retain the right for the remainder of the school year to have their children learn remotely from home.

Janey became acting mayor because she was serving as City Council president at the time of Walsh’s mayoral departure. She has yet to say whether she intends to join the crowded field of candidates who are running for mayor in this fall’s municipal election.

“It’s still so surreal, it really is,” said Janey of her being mayor.

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She said she woke up Tuesday morning, on the first full day of her acting mayoralty, and “felt good.”

To quote Lizzo, I felt good, I’ll leave it at that, I won’t finish the sentence,” she said with a laugh.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.