The event featured all the pomp and circumstance of an inauguration address. Acting Mayor Kim Janey gathered at the Museum of African American History before dozens of supporters Friday to mark her first 100 days on the job, in a theatric ceremony that included an introductory poem and song and a video highlighting her work so far.
It was a city-sanctioned event. It could have also passed for a campaign rally.
Janey’s ceremony Friday, billed as an update for residents on the city’s successes, including the recovery from the pandemic, also illustrated the political advantages that come with being acting mayor. That platform in the midst of a campaign has brought her some challenges but also blessings, as polls show her on steady ground and at the front of the pack in a historic race for mayor.
“Janey had a huge advantage, grabbing the slot like that,” said Lou DiNatale, a veteran political pollster. He noted the recent controversies she’s faced, including problems in the police department and school system, but added, “She’s not going down, given the crises she’s faced.
“That was a critical moment to stay buoyant – and she did,” he said.
Janey’s opponents were quick to criticize the politicizing of a city event. City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who is also running for mayor, released a statement laying out her own vision for what her first 100 days in office would look like, saying Janey “has failed to address important issues,” ranging from the opioid crisis to scandals in the police department.
“This is not the time for a celebration, it’s a time for governing,” she said.
And Councilor Michelle Wu, also running for mayor, pointed out that Janey was announcing the creation of a program, a children’s Cabinet, that Wu had already proposed months ago.
“I’m always energized to see our policy positions and proposals adopted widely,” Wu said in an arch statement, before leveling a more direct shot at her rival.
“Announcements alone don’t deliver impact — we need a transformative vision and leadership to drive urgent action.” .
A city press release after the ceremony said the event was for Janey to share “progress on her city agenda of reopening, recovery and renewal,” as well as the release of her mayoral transition committee report with recommendations in areas including education, housing, public health, and economic development.
City officials did not provide a detailed account of the costs for the event but did say there was no fee for use of the venue.
Janey was a relatively little-known district councilor from Roxbury just seven months ago, recognized among just 4 percent of respondents in at least one private poll in January — when word came that former mayor Martin J. Walsh would be leaving. In March, Janey was elevated to acting mayor because she was the council president.
The new post quickly boosted her standing among voters.
By mid-April, a WBUR poll had her earning 18 percent of respondents’ support, behind only Wu, who has run successfully for citywide office multiple times and announced her mayoral campaign in September.
And a Boston Globe and Suffolk University poll late last month had Janey at 22 percent, behind only Wu, at 24 percent, and well within the poll’s margin of error.
Janey’s rise in popularity mirrors Thomas M. Menino’s climb in 1993, when Menino — then a district councilor from Hyde Park — was elevated to acting mayor that July after former mayor Ray Flynn left office.
In June of that year, when word became official that Flynn would be taking a post at the Vatican, Menino had been polling at a mere 9 percent; by the end of July, two weeks after he became acting mayor, his support increased to 14 percent; by early September, he was at 17 percent, and he was at 22 percent later that month, a week before the preliminary election.
Menino ultimately won with 26 percent of the preliminary vote in a race against six other major candidates, and he cruised to victory in the November final election. He went on to hold office for two decades, demonstrating the might of incumbency in Boston.
Political strategists and Janey’s opponents note that the power of holding the office similarly helped Janey, though they also question whether controversies in her first 100 days also stunted her growth.
“We see something that could be a ceiling for her, and we like that,” said one operative from an opposing campaign, who was not authorized to speak publicly about strategy. “She hasn’t run away with the race.”
But analysts also note that Janey has been able to stabilize her support — and has been steadily building it since March — in spite of the controversies, particularly the strife surrounding her decision to fire then-Police Commissioner Dennis White and the public tiff with the City Council over her proposed budget.
Menino, who became acting mayor after the budget in 1993 was passed, did not have to navigate such challenges in his two months of campaigning before the preliminary election, the analysts also pointed out.
Doug Chavez, a political strategist and consultant with Barrales Public Affairs, said the power of incumbency can have pluses, but also minuses, and that the poll results show that Janey has been able to balance them both.
“She’s hanging in there,” Chavez said, noting Janey’s lack of widespread popularity just six months ago. “She’s got the pulpit and showing she can use it. It’s a good strategy, to continue reminding folks that, ‘look, there’s a different mayor now. This is me, this is what I’ve done’.”
He added, “The advantage goes to those at the top right now.”
On Friday, during her 100-day celebration, Janey laid out what she sees as a list of accomplishments: The city’s reopening, an improving unemployment rate, new support for renters affected by the public health crisis.
But setbacks have been part of her tenure as well, starting with the botched firing of White, whom Walsh had placed on leave three months earlier amid revelations unearthed by the Globe of a history of alleged domestic violence abuse. After a legal challenge, Janey ultimately fired White last month. Though the firing became a public debacle, Janey’s sympathizers have said that it was a scandal borne from the Walsh administration.
Meanwhile, city employees filed a lawsuit challenging her return-to-work plan. And two school committee members were forced to resign for sending out questionable text messages.
She also had a notable public battle with the City Council over her proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year, a falling out that made headlines because, just seven months ago, Janey was a member of the panel calling for many of the same reforms that councilors were demanding of her. The spat was marked with whispers from campaign circles that Janey was not giving certain councilors — those running for mayor — COVID briefings, as Walsh had done, and that she had been slow to respond to budget questions.
The budget was ultimately passed in a 10-2 during a heated meeting last week, after communications between councilors and Janey, and an extraordinary and unusual $31 million supplemental appropriation, according to several councilors.
City Council President Pro Tempore Matt O’Malley, who holds that post in Janey’s absence, acknowledged the public spat but noted that the budget was passed and that city officials should look ahead to their work in city government.
“Inherently, there’s always going to be tension between an executive branch and a legislative branch of government,” he said, adding there is always an opportunity for “better collaboration.”
He added, “At the end of the day . . . we need to do everything we can to work together. We’re not going to agree all the time, or most of the time, but it’s important that all of us who serve in elected office, particularly at the local level, strive to work together and move the city forward.”
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him @miltonvalencia and on Instagram @miltonvalencia617. Danny McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @Danny__McDonald.