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A bureaucratic double standard for Boston’s acting mayor

Acting Mayor Kim Janey's administration said that in hindsight it should have treated Janey the same as the other candidates regarding the registering of rental properties but, “the intentions were not political.”Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

It is good to be acting mayor — especially if you are campaigning for a full term. Just ask Kim Janey.

Three of Janey’s fellow mayoral candidates took flak last month in a Globe report for failures to register rental apartments with the city, as required of all landlords. The acting mayor was guilty of the same bureaucratic sin, but unlike her rivals, Janey was spared a similar fate.

That’s because Janey’s administration allowed her to clean up her misdeed at the same time it released records showing the failings of her fellow candidates and their spouses, the Globe has found. And it’s not the first time the Janey administration has taken steps beneficial to her campaign by shielding records from public scrutiny, drawing the ire of those who are also vying for the mayor’s office.


“It’s not okay that the Acting Mayor is using her office to either obtain an inappropriate advantage over, or intentionally create hurdles for, her political opponents,” mayoral candidate and City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George said in a statement. “Our campaign believes this is part of a pattern in which Acting Mayor Janey oversteps to undermine her fellow candidates’ work, record, and character.”

Janey’s administration acknowledged last week that a press aide warned her about the Globe’s inquiries, and the acting mayor, upon learning she was in violation, wanted to rectify it as soon as possible. In a statement, the administration said in hindsight it should have treated Janey the same as the other candidates but, “the intentions were not political.”

In this tight mayoral race, any edge can help as candidates seek to define themselves to an electorate focused on the pandemic. Incumbents enjoy enormous advantages in local elections, where turnout is low and name recognition trumps all. Political scientists have found that incumbency increases the probability of winning by 30 percent.


“That’s a big number,” said Rachael V. Cobb, chair of Suffolk University’s department of political science and legal studies. “It absolutely matters.”

For Janey and the other candidates, forgetting to register rental properties is an administrative oversight and not a political scandal. Still, no candidate wants any whiff that they have run afoul of city rules as they are running for mayor.

Janey had failed to file her two rental apartments with the city for nearly a decade. She registered them on July 14, five days after the Globe requested records of all mayoral candidates.

When the city provided records a few days later, the stack of documents included warning letters to Essaibi George’s husband, City Councilor Michelle Wu, and the city’s former economic chief John F. Barros.

When pressed this past week, the Janey administration acknowledged they should have handled it differently. “Upon review, the Mayor believes that the appropriate action would have been for her to receive the same notice as the other candidates,” the statement said.

Out of the public eye, Janey’s mayoral campaign has potentially benefited from other actions taken by her administration. For example, in July the Janey administration largely released — at the Globe’s request — up to 18 months of office calendars for the other candidates who worked at City Hall.

But not for Janey. The administration produced only a fraction of her records, excluding everything from after the date she became acting mayor. (Previous mayors have routinely released their internal calendars in response to record requests).


For months, the Janey administration has also ignored a Globe records request for messages sent to and from the acting mayor’s city e-mail account regarding fund-raising and the upcoming election. (The failure to respond was cited in a lawsuit the Globe filed last week against the city.)

The Janey administration said it was continuing “to process these requests, and we will release responsive information.”

In a separate issue, Janey has also failed each of the past four years to acknowledge owning rental or investment apartments on financial disclosures that municipal officials are required to file with the city clerk. The disclosure specifically asks about rental and investment properties and Janey has left that section blank or checked “not applicable.”

Janey lives in Roxbury in a three-family home with two rental apartments, records show.

Her administration said in its statement that Janey “hasn’t rented the units since 2017” and therefore “did not list them as separate from her house in the Statement of Financial Interest.”

With less than a month left until the preliminary election, Janey can take comfort in Boston’s history. Incumbent mayors here almost never lose.

In fact, the city’s last acting mayor was the late Thomas M. Menino, who used the muscle of City Hall to win more than just one full term. Menino held the office for 20 years, making him Boston’s longest serving mayor.

Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him @globeandrewryan.