© 2021 WYPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kim Janey Will Be Boston's 1st Female Mayor And Its 1st Non-White Mayor

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For the first time ever, Boston is being run by a woman, Kim Janey. Boston's City Council president became acting mayor when Marty Walsh resigned to become labor secretary. Adam Reilly of member station GBH says she'll bring the mindset of an activist to the role.

ADAM REILLY, BYLINE: Kim Janey will govern a city of almost 700,000, but a few years ago, she was elected to the city council with just 5,000 votes. That's not a knock on Janey, who represents 1 of 9 districts. Still, she's not a household name. So I asked her, what should people who aren't familiar with you know?

KIM JANEY: You know, my very first school that I went to was a community school that was started by Black parents and activists who were deeply concerned that Black children were not being well served or educated in Boston public schools in the 1960s and '70s.

REILLY: Before second grade, Janey's parents moved her into Boston school system, where she was told she'd have to repeat first grade. Her parents said no and prevailed.

JANEY: That was such an important lesson for me to see them stand up for their child.

REILLY: At 11, she was bused across the city from her predominantly Black neighborhood to a mostly white one as part of a court-ordered plan to desegregate Boston's schools.

JANEY: We had rocks thrown at our buses and racial slurs and police escorts and the whole nine. Inside that school, you know, we were kids. And we were friends with each other, regardless of what neighborhoods we lived in.

REILLY: Later, Janey went to high school in a suburb through a program aimed at giving kids from the city expanded opportunity. At 16, she became a mother and had to go to work right after graduation.

JANEY: It also meant that people would write you off. And so I had to work extra hard to make sure that my daughter had the opportunities that I wanted for her.

REILLY: Janey got a job in data entry and went to community college. She transferred to Smith College but left to care for her grandfather after her grandmother died. She got out of what she calls a dysfunctional, abusive relationship. And eventually, she became a community organizer, most recently with Massachusetts Advocates for Children, where she pushed to reform Boston schools.

JOHN MUDD: Kim is an extraordinarily strong woman. She is deeply respectful of people of all kinds.

REILLY: John Budd hired Janey at Mass Advocates, where she worked for nearly two decades.

MUDD: We were about empowering people - parents, community members, church members - to make the institutions that represent them respond to their real needs.

REILLY: Now, those same people will be pushing Janey to deliver. It won't be easy, especially in a pandemic. But Janey says, given Boston's deep inequities, that can't be an excuse.

JANEY: Pre-COVID, there's a life expectancy gap of 30 years from Grove Hall to Symphony Hall. It's not enough to go back to normal. I've been a broken record on this. We're not looking - I'm not looking to go back to normal. I want us to go better.

REILLY: For now, Janey isn't saying whether she'll seek the mayor's job permanently - if she does, she'll have competition. The field already includes three other city councilors, all women of color and men of Puerto Rican and Cape Verdean descent. Whatever Janey decides, though, her impending promotion will be historic.

JANEY: My city is going to have its first woman mayor. How incredible is that? My city is going to have its first Black mayor. Wow. And then I think, oh, wow, that's me (laughter).

REILLY: For NPR News, I'm Adam Reilly in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.