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Can Kim Janey ‘act’ her way into the job?

The idea that communities of color must coalesce behind a single candidate of color is as antidemocratic as it is insulting. It also raises questions about the perceived advantages of ‘acting’ incumbency.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey speaks during a press conference on April 20.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Is one Black woman mayoral candidate just as good as another? Almost interchangeable? That notion reflects some of the limited and demeaning thinking circulating in the city as the mayoral race heats up. And it also speaks to the built-in advantages of incumbency — in this case “acting” incumbency.

In an e-mail first reported in Commonwealth magazine last week, Richard Taylor, a Black developer and one-time state transportation secretary, said that now that there’s a Black woman serving as mayor, why have another Black woman contest the election?

“I think Andrea [Campbell] is great. And had Marty [Walsh] not left I would be supporting her. BUT now that we have a Black female in the seat, what is the purpose of changing,” Taylor wrote in an e-mail that landed in some of Campbell’s supporters’ inboxes.


The Black female Taylor was referring to is Kim Janey, who became acting mayor per the Boston city charter stating that the city council president steps in should the mayoral role become vacant. Janey was sworn in when Marty Walsh left the post to become labor secretary in late March.

Taylor’s e-mail reflects the outdated, pervasive mentality that says politically underrepresented communities of color must coalesce behind a single candidate of color in order for him or her to be successful at the ballot box. That’s as antidemocratic as it is insulting.

Taylor’s note said that Janey “is demonstrating that she can do the job” but didn’t offer any examples or further reasoning other than to say she’s already in the seat. As for Campbell, Taylor suggested she should be appointed to fill the Suffolk district attorney’s post in the event that Rachael Rollins is nominated for US attorney for the district of Massachusetts. Taylor called that a “win/win” — two Black women in high-level positions, regardless of who they are and what exactly they stand for.


Both Janey and Campbell denounced Taylor’s e-mail. “I’m offended by this idea that all Black women are all the same,” Campbell said in an interview. Janey, who a campaign spokesperson said was unavailable for an interview, said via a statement: “[T]he email in question in no way reflects my views or values. I disagree with the notion that there can be only one candidate or that multiple Black candidates are somehow harmful.”

In case one needs proof of how different two Black female candidates can be, one only has to watch them on the campaign trail. Campbell, who launched her mayoral campaign in September, has proposals on a range of issues, such as police reform, public education, and the opioid crisis.

In contrast, voters have heard little about Janey’s vision for a full mayoral term. She announced she was running a month ago, and her website is still light on policy proposals (those are coming, a Janey campaign spokesperson told me). Janey also skipped two recent mayoral forums, missing key opportunities to talk directly to voters interested in learning the differences among the candidates. Along with the rest of the field, Janey was confirmed as of Monday to attend an NAACP mayoral forum on racial justice scheduled for Thursday evening.

Take Boston police reform as an example of an issue that illuminates some disagreements between Janey and Campbell. In her city budget for next fiscal year, Janey’s police spending plan of $400 million represents a small cut of just $4 million from last year’s budget. That is less than the 10 percent reduction she called for last year, as city council president, in a letter to then-mayor Walsh. Meanwhile, Campbell supports a reduction of at least $50 million in the police budget.


As a councilor, perhaps Janey’s most notable victory was her success in pushing for equity in the local marijuana industry. Before being elected to the city council, she spent years working in public education as an advocate. As such, she regularly attended school committee meetings, and she has deep knowledge about the district.

Without question, the mayoral seat has given Janey an advantage. But voters haven’t had much chance to learn more about her vision or what she’s selling to get elected. Yes, there are still four months left in the race. But to fully reject Taylor’s thinking that any Black woman will do, Janey ought to start presenting to voters a fuller picture of what she wants to accomplish — other than just playing the role of mayor.

Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at marcela.garcia@globe.com. Follow her @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.