Boston Mayor Kim Janey on Wednesday vowed to increase COVID-19 testing and vaccinations and close racial equity gaps as she was sworn in as the first Black person and first woman to lead the city.
In a ceremony at City Hall, Janey struck an optimistic tone, acknowledging the historic nature of her ascension but also the work needed to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and tackle systemic racism.
"Today is a new day. I stand before you as the first woman and the first Black mayor of Boston, the city that I love," Janey said. "I come to this day with life experience that is different from the men who came before me."
Janey took over from Marty Walsh, who stepped down Monday after being confirmed as President Joe Biden's labor secretary. The city is cautiously taking steps to reopen and recover from the pandemic, a process she vowed to continue.
Janey said she would work with state and federal officials to increase the amount of COVID-19 tests and vaccine doses flowing into the city.
"I promise to give you bold, courageous leadership -- starting with an unrelenting focus to address the impact of COVID-19. We must do a better job of making vaccines accessible, especially in communities hardest hit," she said.
And the city's recovery process must include efforts to safely reopen schools and vaccinate teachers as well as investing in summer learning opportunities for students who have fallen behind during the pandemic, Janey added. She pledged to work with business, community groups and faith-based organizations to help children "recover academically and emotionally."
Janey said it was important to identify the problems plaguing the city, including wealth gaps caused by systemic racism, and implement new policies to fix them.
"Let's be clear: The problems laid bare by the pandemic were here well before COVID-19," Janey said. "The issues of affordable housing, fare wages, public transportation and climate change are not new. What's different is these problems now impact even more of us.
"These obstacles create an opportunity -- an opportunity to come together to heal and build a more equitable city," she said.
Janey, a native of the city's Roxbury neighborhood, was sworn in by Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, the first Black woman to lead the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who presided over the ceremony and is the first woman of color elected to Congress in Massachusetts, said it was "incredible to witness" Janey's ascension to mayor and called it a "great day, a history-making day."
Janey had four generations of her family at the ceremony, including her granddaughter, who held Janey's late grandfather's Bible during the swearing-in. Asked at her first news conference as mayor what her family's presence meant to her, Janey said, "My heart is just bursting with gratitude."
As for whether or not Janey will jump into the mayor’s race, she would only say she will make that decision in the next few weeks.
Janey spoke about growing up quickly in Roxbury, becoming a mother in high school and cleaning bathrooms to afford Smith College.
"As I juggled it all, like so many others, I felt my first call to give back to the city I love, she said.
After years as a community organizer, Janey worked for Massachusetts Advocates for Children, which led to her seat on the Boston City Council.
One of the first things she did as mayor was visit the Boston public school she attended as an 11-year-old, one she was bused to amid the busing crisis of the 1970s
The 55-year-old said it was powerful to be "living history" for the students, "to be able to visit that school again and to see children who are not bound by that kind of pain and trauma but instead were learning about that very era in our city's history."
Janey joins other recent female trailblazers in Massachusetts, like Pressley, Budd and Rachael Rollins, the first woman elected as Suffolk County district attorney, whom Janey made note in her speech Wednesday.
“What’s hard is that sometimes when you do a job and you think you’re doing the right things, there are people that attack you based on your gender and you have to have really thick skin," Rollins said. "And although I’m a fighter, I’m human.”