Labor Secretary Martin Walsh and Acting Mayor Kim Janey

The U.S. Senate’s confirmation of Martin Walsh as labor secretary on Monday brought a historic change to the city of Boston, making Kim Janey the city’s first Black and first female mayor.

The Senate vote came more than two months after President Joe Biden nominated him. Walsh resigned as mayor a few hours later, after seven years on the job. Janey, who was the City Council president, was sworn in today as acting mayor.

Walsh and Janey hail from two of Boston’s less-affluent neighborhoods, and they both have overcome significant obstacles on their way to becoming leaders. In a press conference Monday night, Walsh reflected on the political journeys the two made toward this transition.

“I was texting with Council President Janey last night, and I texted, ‘Think about this for a minute: A little girl from Roxbury is about to be mayor of Boston,’” Walsh said. “And her response was, ‘Think about this for a minute: A little boy from Dorchester is about to become the United States labor secretary.’”

The son of Irish immigrants, Walsh survived cancer as a child and received treatment for alcoholism as an adult. Working as a laborer, he rose through the ranks of the union to become a union president. From 1997 to 2014, he represented the 13th Suffolk District, which includes parts of Boston and Quincy, in the Legislature. He was elected to his first mayoral term in 2013, and was reelected in 2017.

When Biden nominated Walsh for the labor post on Jan. 8, he described Walsh as a good friend and “tough as nails.” Walsh then participated in a largely cordial hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which voted, 18-4, on Feb. 11 to approve his nomination.

By heading to Washington, Walsh will bring a prominent local voice to the Biden administration. In an email thanking Boston residents, Walsh wrote that he will work to make the new administration “the best federal partner Boston and America’s cities have ever had.” In his resignation letter, he also reflected on his experience in Boston and connected it to his work in Washington.

“In my new role as our nation’s Secretary of Labor, I will draw deeply on the lessons I have learned in Boston these last seven years and throughout my life in our city,” Walsh wrote in his resignation letter. “I will be forever grateful to the people of Boston for shaping who I am and granting me the privilege of serving as your Mayor.”

Instead of having a special election, Boston will wait to hold its next regular mayoral election this fall, making Janey the city’s leader for the rest of the year.

Janey now leads a city in whose difficult racial history has intersected with her own life. As a child during court-ordered school desegregation in the 1970s, Janey faced rock-throwing and racial slurs as she rode the school bus to another section of Boston. Later, she attended school in the town of Reading through the METCO program, which educates city students in suburban districts. She became a mother at age 16, and cleaned bathrooms to attend Smith College and support her daughter.

With a focus on children’s issues, civil rights and equity, Janey spent 16 years working for the Massachusetts Advocates for Children, and was previously a community organizer for Parents United for Child Care. She was elected to the City Council in 2017, becoming the city’s first female District 7 councillor. She became council president in 2020.

In an opinion piece published Monday in The Boston Globe, Janey pledged to address issues such as systemic racism, police reform and the racial wealth gap. In helping the city recover from the COVID pandemic, Janey wrote that she wants to help make vaccines more accessible, work toward safe school reopenings, and address economic disparities while reopening the city for business.

“Let’s be clear — the problems laid bare by the pandemic were here before COVID-19,” Janey wrote. “The issues of affordable housing, public transportation, and climate change are not new. What’s different is that these problems now impact more of us.”

In a tweet following Walsh’s confirmation, Janey congratulated Walsh and acknowledged the change.

“Now, we look ahead to a new day — a new chapter — in Boston’s history,” Janey tweeted.

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