At the start of the year, Kim Janey was just one of 13 city councilors, responding to constituent complaints on matters both mundane and monumental. Today, she’s acting mayor and taking heat from all sides. A mere 73 days into the role, she’s under fire for how she’s handled leadership of the Police Department, about her plans for a troubled stretch of the city, and from residents who say they’ve lost a close connection with her since she took up residence in the corner office.
In virtual mayoral forums, Janey highlights her tenure as mayor and what she sees as her key accomplishments, but in conversations across the city, residents are beginning to offer a less than stellar critique of her job performance thus far.
“In multiple conversations I’ve had within the South End . . . I’d say the jury is still out in terms of allowing the mayor a little bit more of a honeymoon period,’' said Steve Fox, vice chairman of the Alliance of Downtown Civic Organizations, which includes Bay Village, Chinatown, the North End, and the South End.
One of the toughest tests in Janey’s leadership came three weeks ago, when Janey had to delay the removal of embattled police Commissioner Dennis White, who took her to court and argued that she did not have the authority to terminate him. Though Janey ultimately prevailed and held a termination hearing for White on Wednesday, Janey appeared blindsided by White’s legal challenge, which led to weeks of uncertainty.
For residents the episode was both a demonstration of Janey’s courage to take on the entrenched Boston Police Department and a glaring example of her lack of experience.
“She tried to make a major power move, but the law got in the way,’' said Mattapan lawyer Jovan Lacet.
Donnie Palmer, a Boston school teacher and City Council candidate, said that Janey’s handling of the situation was “unprofessional” and caused unneeded “drama.”
“Mayor Janey handled this situation like a rookie,’' he said. “What I question is if she is using this BPD issue to catapult her to a victory in November. And if so that is wrong.”
But Jian Hua Tang, a Chinatown activist, praised Janey for taking on what she sees as an “abuse of power” in the Boston Police Department. “I must commend her courage, and I must commend her bravery taking this really bold stand,” said Tang.
Across the city, Janey’s overall job performance and policies are getting close scrutiny as the race for mayor heats up. (Janey is one of six major candidates vying for the job.) While some residents were reluctant to offer hard critiques of the acting mayor, saying it is much too early to judge her performance, others say they need more specifics on how she plans to tackle soaring housing costs, provide help for small businesses, and open opportunities for students who have fallen further behind because of the pandemic.
“I believe that Kim Janey as mayor is most qualified to lead the charge to change the failed history of policy decisions that have disadvantaged Black and brown students decade after decade,” said Edith Bazile, former president of the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts.
Residents in the North End also want more from Janey. Ford Cavallari, who chairs the Alliance of Downtown Civic Organizations, said he and other community leaders had “a great working relationship” with Councilor Janey, most notably on creating the city’s Short Term Rental ordinance to regulate the conversion of residential housing into “defacto hotel use. "
But they have had a hard time getting the acting mayor to return their phone calls. Meanwhile, several of the group’s key issues have suffered “considerable setbacks,’' particularly short-term rental controls and electronic billboard regulation, said Cavallari.
“Kim Janey’s considerable promise has been diminished by a perplexing inaccessibility thus far as mayor,” Cavallari said. “The accessibility that neighborhood associations like ours have had to department heads [and] to policy makers has been shuttered. It’s zero at this point. The calls aren’t being returned. . . . There’s a bit of deer-in-the-headlights going on at City Hall.”
In Janey’s District 7, residents cited the enormity of the task of acting mayor, saying Janey needs more time to get things done.
“She’s still working through what it is like being mayor,’' said Edna Smallwood, a District 7 resident. “It’s about what decisions she will make and what priorities she will highlight for the people of Boston.”
Janey has been traveling across the city both as acting mayor and mayoral candidate. In Roslindale last month on official mayoral duties, she visited a string of businesses and lunched at Mi Finca, where she sampled the restaurant’s specialty, Birria Taco, with an entourage of city and community business leaders.
“It’s such a real pleasure,’' beamed co-owner Janet Bonilla, grateful for the high-profile visit after a tough year.
Outside, a driver poked his head out of his car window to greet “Madam Mayor.”
Among Janey’s accomplishments, she has led the reopening of the city and the schools, created a fund to help residents displaced by the pandemic, and launched a vaccine grant to increase COVID-19 shots in communities of color.
She also released a redacted internal affairs report on Patrick Rose, the Boston patrol officer accused in a slew of child molestation cases, and an outside investigation of White’s background and his selection. White was appointed commissioner by Martin J. Walsh shortly before he departed for a position in the Biden administration.
Still, Janey will have lots of ground to cover to reach large swaths of people who still do not know much about her and her policies. That includes Evelyn Darius, an immigrant from Haiti who said she will vote for the first time this year.
“I haven’t heard of her‚’’ said Darius recently.
Nicole Johnson, who lives in Dorchester, expressed annoyance that Janey has removed “acting” from her title, as if voters should not have a say in who to choose as their mayor, Johnson said.
In Allston-Brighton, residents have long complained about a “planning disaster” in the neighborhood and want to know if Janey will create a special planning unit within the Boston Planning and Development Agency, as other candidates have proposed.
“I haven’t heard Janey take that stance or at least advocate for it very strongly. Can she take on the BPDA?,’’ said Brent Whelan, a member of the Harvard-Allston Task Force. “It’s a powerful agency with a whole lot of developers’ money behind it, and it’s going to take a very strong person to stand up to the planning function there.”
Back the South End, Fox said he and other residents want, among other things, improvements on Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue and the return of recovery services on Long Island.
Janey has said her administration is looking into what would be the best strategy for Mass and Cass, but Fox so far is not convinced.
Said Fox: “I’m a little worried that some of the priorities of the neighborhoods are going to be put on the back burner until after [the preliminary election in September].”