With a small protest demonstrating against the city’s vaccination mandate nearby, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu Monday swore in the new City Council in the City Hall courtyard.
The ceremony marked the official beginning for a diverse group of newcomers whose victories in November’s municipal election brought significant turnover to the city’s legislative body. The freshman councilors include at-large councilors Erin Murphy and Ruthzee Louijeune, District 4 Councilor Brian Worrell, District 6 Councilor Kendra Hicks, and District 7 Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson. Incumbents returning for another term on the council include Lydia Edwards, who will likely become a state senator in coming weeks, Ed Flynn, Frank Baker, Ricardo Arroyo, Kenzie Bok, Liz Breadon, Michael Flaherty, and Julia Mejia. Flynn will serve as City Council president.
During her remarks, Wu noted that this year marks the 200th anniversary of Boston becoming a city and the creation of its first City Council. In a nod to the makeup of the newly sworn-in council, she said during its first century as a city, Boston had yet to have any female councilors nor any councilors of color.
She ticked off history-making newcomers: Louijeune, the first Haitian-American elected to the body; Fernandes Anderson, a Cape Verdean immigrant who was formerly undocumented and is now the first Muslim councilor in city history; Hicks, the first woman of color to serve District 6. Wu also said Worrell is the first Black man to serve on the council since 2017.
Wu struck a collaborative tone, saying her administration is looking to partner with the new council.
“In this new year, let us find warmth in each other, even as we face stiff headwinds,” she said, gesturing toward the protests outside, “We will make progress.”
Wu, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, last month made history herself, becoming the first woman and first person of color in Boston’s history elected mayor.
Among the political luminaries at the ceremony, which was held outside despite temperatures in the 20s because of renewed COVID-19 concerns, were Labor Secretary and former Boston mayor, Martin J. Walsh, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who is on the verge of becoming the US attorney for Massachusetts.
A small group of protesters, frustrated with the city’s vaccination mandates in response to the surge of the highly infectious Omicron variant, made noise throughout the proceedings. The group gathered outside City Hall, but their whistles, boos, and chants echoed through the concrete courtyard during the event.
Demonstrators have recently protested Wu’s announced new vaccine requirements for indoor dining, fitness, and entertainment establishments in the city and strengthened a vaccine mandate for the city’s 18,000-strong workforce. Some of the recent pushback to the new rules was racist and misogynistic in nature.
Amid the cold and the crowd of politicos and several dozen relatives and supporters, Wu administered the oath of office as sirens rang out from the nearby protesters.
Among the demonstrators’ chants: “Shame on Wu!” “My body, my choice!” And one chant invoking Walsh’s name.
Walsh, before he left City Hall to join President Biden’s Cabinet last year, clashed with Wu during her time as a city councilor.
For his part, Walsh batted away questions about the protests Monday, saying he was at the event for Wu and called it an historic day.
Asked if Wu would face such protests if she were a white man, Walsh deflected: “Let’s celebrate her day today.” A few minutes later, Walsh, whose political rise in the city was anchored by labor union support, declined to answer whether municipal union leaders in Boston should distance themselves from vaccine protests like the one Monday morning.
“I’m going to stick to the topic today,” he said.
Last week, Boston Firefighters Local 718, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society filed a petition for a temporary restraining order to halt the vaccine mandate’s implementation, arguing the requirement would violate existing labor agreements and “overburden exhausted work forces,” according to a statement from the firefighters union.
Walsh said it was his first time back to City Hall since he left the building’s 5th floor corner office last year, calling the visit bittersweet. He implored the public to be vigilant against COVID-19, emphasizing that people should not lose sight of the fact that they are still living in a pandemic.
“With the surge, everyone should be careful,” he said.
Massachusetts on Monday reported 31,184 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the state’s first report since Friday, when there were 21,397 cases, a one-day record. The Department of Public Health also reported 39 new confirmed deaths and said 38,609 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered.
The state also reported that 2,221 patients with COVID-19 were in the hospital. On Monday, the seven-day positivity rate was 19.87 percent.
Last week, the state surpassed more than 1 million COVID cases reported since the start of the pandemic, a sobering milestone as the state battles an uptick in cases.
Correction: Due to a reporter’s error, a previous version of this story included an inaccuracy regarding a chant heard at the swearing-in. The protesters chanted “Marty Walsh is anti-labor.”