Acting Mayor Kim Janey, in her first public address as the city’s executive, needed just five words to encapsulate the history being made.
“Today is a new day,” she said Wednesday.
Janey made the remarks after she was formally sworn in to the post she assumed Monday night after Martin J. Walsh left to become the nation’s labor secretary. The City Hall ceremony celebrated an historic pair of firsts: Janey is Boston’s first Black mayor and the city’s first female mayor.
The Roxbury resident, who was City Council president before Walsh left, said she brings “life experience that is different from the men who came before me.”
She recounted some of those formative life experiences: being bused to Charlestown as a youth during the fraught, and sometimes violent, desegregation of the city’s schools in the 1970s; becoming a mother as a teenager; cleaning bathrooms at Smith College to get by; volunteering for Mel King’s campaign for mayor, when he became the first person of color to make it to the final election for the seat. She highlighted her deep roots in the South End and Roxbury, saying she comes from “a long line of proud educators, entrepreneurs, artists, and advocates.”
As Boston’s new executive, Janey faces a thicket of complex challenges, and there is no problem more immediate than the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis that Janey said has laid bare existing inequities. She said officials must do a better job of making vaccines accessible, particularly in neighborhoods rocked the hardest by the virus. She said she would partner with other leaders to boost testing and vaccinations across Boston.
“I will fight to make it happen.”
The reopening of Boston schools is ongoing as well, with the city getting a waiver from the state on Wednesday to delay the return of full-time in-person learning in its elementary schools. Janey, a former educational advocate, said education was a “personal” issue for her, adding that too many students “are hurt by an opportunity and achievement gap that limits their true potential.”
“The isolation that many students experienced during this pandemic has only made things worse,” she said. “We must do everything in our power to support our teachers and ensure every student succeeds.”
As mayor, Janey will also 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.
There is the matter of a new, independent police watchdog that will have the power to investigate officer misconduct. The new entity has yet to be implemented. Janey, in her remarks, said she would continue to lead police reform efforts.
Additionally, Janey will oversee the city’s efforts to increase the number of city contracts that go to women and vendors of color, following a study that found significant disparities in the way the contracts are handed out.
On Wednesday, Janey said the findings of the contracting study were “unacceptable” and pledged to take action to boost diversity in city contracting.
Equity was a throughline of her remarks. Janey noted that unemployment rates for city residents of color spiked higher at the start of the pandemic, and the same communities hit hardest by COVID-19 have also experienced the highest rates of housing and food insecurity.
The dignitaries who shared the podium with Janey underscored the significance of the moment. Chief Justice Kimberly Budd of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, who is the first Black woman to lead the state’s high bench, administered the oath of office, while Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston — the first Black woman to represent the Commonwealth in Congress — lauded the city’s new mayor.
“She will lead with empathy and conviction to ensure no individual or family is left behind as we recover from the crisis we face, and she will set the stage for a more just and equitable future,” Pressley said of Janey.
During a news conference after the ceremony, Janey shrugged off an inquiry regarding whether she was concerned about city charter limitations hindering her authority as “acting” mayor.
“I will use my authority as mayor and the power that comes with that office to ensure that we are doing everything we can for the residents of Boston,” she said.
And, at her Wednesday ceremony, there was no sign of the “acting” part of her title. A copy of her prepared remarks handed out at the event included “Mayor Kim Janey” in the header. That title was also emblazoned on a blue backdrop positioned behind a podium.
Janey was sworn in on a Bible that belonged to her grandfather, a Baptist preacher. Her 6-year-old granddaughter, Rosie, held the book during the oath.
After the ceremony, the mayor’s mother, Phyllis Janey, called the day “one of the proudest moments of my life.”
“I’m happy to be her mother,” she said.
Kimesha Janey, the mayor’s daughter, said seeing her mother’s swearing-in was “wonderful to witness.”
“It’s really incredible to see the barriers broken,” she said, her eyes welling up.
After the ceremony, state Representative Russell E. Holmes said Janey becoming mayor was “going to open up many, many avenues.”
“Folks have to see it as something that’s possible, like they had to see with Barack Obama,” he said. “That actually all of us are equal and all of us are talented enough to be able to hold these positions.”
Janey hasn’t said whether she’ll seek a full term in office as a general election candidate in November. Should she decide to enter the race, she’ll join a crowded field that includes some of her former council colleagues.
“I promise to bring urgency to this job, and strive to make positive change happen in every neighborhood in our city,” she said at Wednesday’s ceremony. “In my administration, there will always be a place for those who have felt left out of power.”