Boston has never had a Black person or a woman serve as mayor. That is now set to change.
Kim Janey, city council president, is slated to become mayor following President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to his Cabinet this week.
The Boston city charter specifies that the city council president becomes acting mayor if the job becomes vacant. The distinction means she “may only perform urgent tasks” and cannot make permanent appointments. Janey was elected to the city council in 2017 and became city council president last year.
Janey said in a Twitter post that if Walsh is confirmed as Biden’s Labor secretary, she was “ready to take the reins and lead our city through these difficult times.”
Janey is expected to join a small group of Black women leading the nation’s largest cities.
Data from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University (CAWP) shows as of June 2020, there were 27 women serving as mayors in the 100 largest American cities. Of those, 10 are women of color. Six of them are Black (Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta; Muriel Bowser in Washington, DC; London Breed in San Francisco; LaToya Cantrell in New Orleans, Louisiana; Lori Lightfoot in Chicago; and Vi Alexander Lyles in Charlotte, North Carolina). Sharon Weston-Broome, the mayor of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was previously on the list but her city has fallen out of the population criteria.
The number of Black women serving as mayors in the nation’s 100 most populous cities has increased in recent years, according to a report released in 2019 by CAWP and Higher Heights, an organization that works to elect more Black women to office.
The data at the time showed that in the last five years, 10 Black women had been elected as mayor in those populous cities. In 2014, it was just two Black women.
Several of these women mayors have led their cities during a global pandemic and racial injustice that’s played out in communities rather than through policy at the federal level.
Kelly Dittmar, director of research at CAWP, said there’s no single reason why Black women’s representation is up in mayoral office, but she noted there are still challenges to Black women serving in higher office. They are among the most active voters, but there has been slow change in their representation in elected office. There has never been a Black woman elected governor, and though the ascension of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is historic, it also means there will be no Black women in the U.S. Senate. More women of color have been vocal about the additional barriers to running for office, though data shows candidates of color win at the same rates as White men.
“I don’t think there is a way to predict, ‘Oh, if you have more Black women as big-city mayors, will that lead to a Black woman governor?’ I don’t think it’s apples to apples,” Dittmar said. “But I do think when you see Black women in those roles, and particularly to the extent that they’re seen as effective leaders in these roles and they make a national name for themselves, that it gets to the same conversation we’re having with Harris about normalizing Black women’s political and executive leadership.”
Janey’s ascension as mayor will depend on the timing of Walsh’s expected resignation. There will be a mayoral race this year, and at least two women of color, Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu, who are both council members, have announced their candidacies.