Biden taps Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for labor secretary

Cabinet appointment would unleash a 'free for all' race for mayor

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN has tapped Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to serve as his labor secretary, a move that would elevate the former union leader to a prominent national post and set in motion a rare contest for an open mayor’s seat in the city 

Walsh, 53, a former leader of the Boston area building trades union, had been seen as a leading contender for the cabinet post, but had not tipped his hand about his interest in leaving for job in Washington.  

“Working people, labor unions, and those fighting every day for their shot at the middle class are the backbone of our economy and of this country,” Walsh tweeted at 9 pm on Thursday. “As Secretary of Labor, I’ll work just as hard for you as you do for your families and livelihoods.”

A move by Walsh into the new Biden administration would propel City Council President Kim Janey into the role of acting mayor. The African-American Roxbury district councilor would become the first woman and first person of color to serve as mayor. It would also come at a time of national focus on issues of racial justice and the representation of people of color in elected office.

“Should Mayor Walsh be confirmed by the Senate, I am ready to take the reins and lead our city through these difficult times,” Janey said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the Walsh administration and my colleagues on the Council to ensure a smooth transition, as we address the unprecedented challenges facing our city.”  

Two women city councilors of color, Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell, launched campaigns for mayor last year. Walsh had been widely expected to seek a third term this fall, but had made no official announcement that he would seek reelection.  

A mid-term departure by Walsh could position Janey to also enter the mayor’s race. Janey did not address whether she will consider running for the post.

If Walsh leaves office before early March, the City Council could call for a special election to be held. If he departs after that point, Janey would serve as acting mayor until the regularly scheduled municipal election this fall. Regardless of the timing, mayoral election would start with a preliminary election among all qualified candidates. The two top finishers would then vie in a two-way final election

Campbell and Wu both issued statements Thursday afternoon congratulating Walsh.  

“Congratulations to Mayor Walsh on his nomination as Secretary of Labor – a fitting role for someone who has spent his entire career fighting for working people in and out of public service,” Campbell said in a statement.  

Wu sent out an email offering her congratulations before saying the city “demands a new generation of bold, urgent leadership to build a more resilient Boston.” Her email came with a call for donations to her campaign. 

“You’d have to say the fact that Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell have already announced gives them a leg up,” said Joe Heisler, the longtime host a Boston public access television show on local politics. That said, Heisler thought the race could still draw as many as half a dozen candidates. 

City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George is also said to be weighing a run.  US Rep. Ayanna Pressley has been mentioned as potentially strong candidate, but has not signaled any interest in running for the job. 

A run by Janey would follow the script of Thomas Menino, who was City Council president in 1993 when then-Mayor Ray Flynn left for an ambassador’s appointment. Menino become acting mayor in July of that year, went on to win election that fall, and served 20 years in office, the longest-serving mayor in city history. 

Walsh, who had been a longtime Democratic state representative from Dorchester, succeeded Menino, winning office in 2013 and reelection in 2017.

Segun Idowu, executive director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, said he is heartened by the background of the two candidates already in the race as well as by Janey’s leadership on issues. “Not only will issues concerning black businesses and black communities be centered in the race, but there will be substantive solutions, based on the folks already in the race,” he said.  

Beyond the possibility of the city electing its first woman or person of color as mayor, Idowu said he’s excited about the possibility of what he called a “full-throated progressive in what I would consider to be the most powerful position in this region.”  

Biden faced pressure in recent weeks to select an Asian American or Pacific Islander for the labor cabinet post – with California labor secretary Julie Su drawing lots of support. Walsh’s candidacy had been strongly backed by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. 

“As a longtime union member, Walsh knows that collective bargaining is essential to building back better by combating inequality, beating COVID-19 and expanding opportunities for immigrants, women and people of color,” said Trumka in an emailed statement. He called Walsh a “fighter,” lauding his experience at the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council, the State House, where Walsh served as a state legislator, the mayor’s office, and even his personal journey with overcoming addiction.  

Walsh, the son of Irish Catholic immigrants whose family has been deeply embedded in Boston union leadership, is seen by some as a potential bridge for the new administration to white working-class voters, who have been deserting the Democratic Party for years.  

If confirmed, Walsh would be the second Boston mayor to go on to serve as US labor secretary. Maurice Tobin, for whom the bridge spanning the Mystic River is named, was mayor from 1938 to 1945. He went on to serve one term as governor before being tapped by President Harry Truman in 1948 to be labor secretary.

Biden and Walsh have been described as close allies, but their ties don’t go back that far. When Walsh was first elected mayor in 2013, Biden accidentally called the wrong Martin Walsh to congratulate him. Since then, Biden and Walsh spoke together in 2014 to Boston Marathon bombing survivors, and the thenvice president spoke at Walsh’s 2018 inauguration. Biden also jointed Walsh in addressing a crowd of striking Stop & Shop workers during the beginning of his presidential campaign.  

Sen. Ed Markey, a longtime Walsh ally, tweeted out his congratulations, saying, “Fantastic news. As a union leader, Marty Walsh will bring the commitment to workers and working families that is desperately needed right now. His tremendous leadership in Boston on climate action, health care, and social justice make him ready on day 1.”