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Mel King, who broke barriers in the mayor’s race, endorses Kim Janey for mayor

Kim Janey.
Kim Janey.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Mel King, who broke a critical barrier to become the first Black person and first person of color to advance to Boston’s general mayoral election nearly four decades ago, has put his pioneering weight behind Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who is also trying to make history as the first Black woman to be elected mayor.

King, who is 92, highlighted the multi-racial, multi-generational Rainbow Coalition that propelled his mayoral candidacy and “changed Boston forever,’' adding that Janey “is carrying that torch today, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it,” according to a press release from the Janey campaign that included King’s statements.

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The endorsement, announced shortly after 9 p.m. Monday, the eve of the preliminary election, is nonetheless a coup in the race from a mayor, especially because it comes from a stalwart in Boston history. It is also a significant boost as Janey is locked in a tight battle for second place in the polls. Tomorrow’s vote will determine which two of the five major candidates advance to the final.

Polls show City Councilor Michelle Wu with a large lead. Janey is effectively tied for second with City Councilors Annissa Essaibi George and Andrea Campbell. John Barros, the city’s former chief of economic development, trails at fifth place in the polls.

“I’ve spent my entire life fighting for a Boston that is more equitable and just — one that tears down the walls of racial and economic injustice in Boston and builds up a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-generational coalition that will bring a new day to the city,” said King, a former state representative, activist and educator.

“I believe the person to lead that change is Mayor Kim Janey,” said King.

Melvin "Mel" H. King celebrated at the Parker House in Boston on Oct. 11, 1983, after finding out he had made it into the final round of elections for Boston mayor. King ultimately lost to Raymond Flynn.
Melvin "Mel" H. King celebrated at the Parker House in Boston on Oct. 11, 1983, after finding out he had made it into the final round of elections for Boston mayor. King ultimately lost to Raymond Flynn. Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

He said he’s known Janey and her family for decades, noting that as a teenager, Janey was one of the volunteers on his 1983 campaign for mayor.

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“I have seen her grow into a passionate advocate and leader for equity and excellence in our schools, for affordable housing for every family, ... and for closing the wealth and opportunity gaps that still plague our city,” King’s statement said. “She has done that in just five months as mayor, and I believe she can do so much more with four more years. It is why I am endorsing her and, more importantly, voting for her.”

Janey called King “a giant, a legend, a trailblazer,” saying he shaped her life of activism.

“His influence is felt all throughout our city, throughout the generations, and I am so very honored to have earned his endorsement in this race,” her statement said.

King’s endorsement follows as string of support by current and former lawmakers, including state Representative Jon Santiago, who also ran in the mayor’s race before dropping out in July; former city councilor Tito Jackson; and City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo and his father, Felix D. Arroyo, the first Latino elected to the City Council and a former school committee member.

“Mel King is a legendary leader, mentor, and force in Boston. His endorsement is a huge sign of support and momentum for Kim Janey,” said Jackson. “As a former mayoral candidate, I will take Mel King’s endorsement 100 days out or one hour out from an election. It’s very significant.”

King represented the Ninth Suffolk District in the Massachusetts House of Representative and ran for mayor first in 1979 and in 1983. He has since built a legacy developing programs and advocating for the community.

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Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.