For the first time in Boston’s 390-year history, the Black national anthem played as the city welcomed a new mayor.
Kim Janey, a Roxbury native who until Monday was City Council president, hugged her granddaughter, Rosie, and sang along to “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” At 56, Janey became the city’s first Black and first woman mayor.
“To think, my teenage grandsons were born at a time when there had never even been a Black woman on our city council,” Janey said. “Today, my 6-year-old granddaughter Rosie and other little girls can see themselves represented in Massachusetts’ highest court, the halls of Congress and now in the 55th mayor of Boston.”
Janey took the helm of the city following Marty Walsh’s departure to serve as U.S. labor secretary under President Joe Biden. While she assumed the responsibilities of mayor after Walsh’s resignation at 9 p.m. Monday, Janey delivered her inaugural address in a ceremonial swearing in Wednesday afternoon inside Boston City Hall.
Two of the city’s history-making figures led the ceremony. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who was the city’s first woman of color to serve on the council, described Janey’s ascension as the rupture of a “concrete ceiling.” Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, the first Black woman to lead the state’s high court, administered Janey’s oath of office.
“I could not think of a more poetic moment than sharing the stage with other Black women who are historic firsts, committed to the upliftment of community,” said Pressley, a Boston Democrat. “What a remarkable day for the city of Boston.”
As Budd stepped up to the podium, Janey held up her right hand and placed her left palm over the Bible her granddaughter held. The Bible belonged to Janey’s grandfather, who lived in Boston.
“It’s paying homage to the family that I come from and to those who came before me,” said Janey, a fourth-generation Bostonian, “but also looking to the future with my grandchildren there to witness this historic occasion and to participate in the ceremony. So my heart is just bursting with gratitude to my entire family.”
A small crowd of city officials, lawmakers and members of Janey’s family joined the ceremony, which was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. City employees watched the ceremony from the balcony a floor.
“As a Muslim, I am elated because just has experience as a Black person, as a woman, is going to change things,” said Yusufi Vali, director of the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement. “I think all of us as Bostonians should be so proud, so excited, and I think we all have to work together to make sure that she’s successful so the city’s successful, and that’s certainly going to be my focus.”
Rep. Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat who attended the ceremony, said working with Janey as mayor will be different for him because he has worked with her for years on addressing racial and income inequities.
“We know each other. We’ve been in the fight. We’ve been in the struggle around issues that are most important,” Holmes said.
While he’s worked with Walsh and his predecessor, Thomas Menino, on these issues, he said Janey’s history of fighting against racial inequities and lived experience adds a new dimension. “When Kim begins her conversation with we must address the 1.2% that’s Black and Latinos getting contracts, that’s No. 1 to me when I walk in the door,” he said.
Janey takes the helm as the city navigates the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 1,300 people in Boston and more than 16,000 people statewide. While the state has reported more than 1 million fully vaccinated people, or people who have received both doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the state has seen lower vaccination levels among Black and Latino people compared to white people.
Janey acknowledged the limited supply from the federal government has delayed the vaccine rollout and touted mobile vaccination units as a way to reach residents of all backgrounds closer to home.
“We in Boston have lifted up our own mobile vaccination clinics because we understand the importance of equity and making sure we are getting the vaccine into those who are hardest hit,” Janey said. “We know Black residents who are here in Boston, Latinx community here in Boston have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, by COVID-19 — not only in terms of the health impact but also in terms of the wealth impact.”
Janey said she plans to work with Gov. Charlie Baker, state legislators, city councilors and community leaders to get more people vaccinated. Janey spoke with Baker, a Republican, Tuesday but did not elaborate on the subject of their conversation.
Baker, who called Janey after Walsh was nominated for labor secretary, told Boston Public Radio Janey’s rise to mayor marks “a terrific development for the city of Boston for all kinds of reasons.”
”We chatted about some stuff especially COVID and vaccinations, and I called her yesterday and congratulated her and said I’m looking forward to working with her,” he said Wednesday.
The ceremonial swearing in raised a question Janey has faced for months: Will she join the mayoral race? Janey’s stint as acting mayor will end in January.
The field already looks crowded with at least six declared candidates, including three of Janey’s colleagues in the council. City Councilors Michelle Wu, Andrea Cambpell and Anissa Essaibi George are campaigning to succeed Janey.
Janey told reporters after the swearing in ceremony she will make a decision on whether to run for mayor in a matter of weeks.
”Right now I’m focused on being mayor,” Janey said, “but I will make a decision and an announcement.”
MassLive reporter Ben Kail contributed to the reporting of this article.