This week Kim Janey, became acting mayor of Boston on Monday, making her the first Black person to occupy the position as well as the first woman, Many articles on her taking over that job note something to the effect that she was caught up during the Boston busing days and in 1976 at age 11 she was put on a bus in Roxbury and bused to the “the heart of the Irish-American enclave of Charlestown” where “the mob: white teenagers and adults, shouting and throwing rocks, telling them to go back to Africa.” One article, and perhaps others, noted “the 91-year succession of Irish-American and Italian-American mayors appears to be ending, creating an opening for communities long shut out of the city’s power politics.”
The Irish seem to be the culprits who stoned the little girl and kept folk like her from the mayor’s office. It was not quite that simple. No doubt many were involved in the despicable act of harassing young Black children but juxtaposing that with the Irish having a stranglehold over the mayor’s office and keeping the Blacks out seems a stretch. Blacks did not gain that office because they were no more than 5% of the population in 1950; 16% in 1970; and 25% in 1990 which is about where they stand now.
Other races have recently made up a significant part of Boston’s population. While the White population has declined when White Latinos and Hispanics are excluded to about 42%, the Hispanic population is closing in on 20%, the Asian population on 10%, and those of two or more races climbing to over 5%.
Boston is not ethnically the city it was 20 years ago. It may be one of the most diverse ethnic cities in the country. Except for those who identify themselves as German, English, American, Polish, French, Scottish and Mexican the other 14 groups exceed the national average while coming within less than 1% with the Polish, French and Scottish..
The last Boston mayor prior to Kim Janey who was not Irish-American or Italian American was Malcolm Nichols who left office in 1930. During those 91 years there was only one Italian-American mayor, Thomas Menino, who served for 20 years leaving office in 2014. He, like Kim Janey, was not elected to the position of mayor initially but gained that position when the sitting mayor left for a job with the federal government.
Now it was not that Boston shut out certain communities like Blacks from the mayor’s office, it was a simple matter of demographics. The Irish Catholics were shut out of that office by the native born Protestants until 1885 when Hugh O’Brien got sworn in. It was noted: “By 1885, the Irish were over 40% of the city’s population. They were the largest group of foreign-born residents and outnumbered the native-born Yankees.”
I suppose in one sense we should be surprised that Kim Janey became mayor. It took the Irish Catholics until they were 40% of the population before one of them got elected. Mayor Janey has the job with Blacks having only a 25% representation. On the other hand we should not be surprised. Boston has had two Black district attorneys, Ralph Martin and presently serving Rachel Rollins. It has elected as sheriff the first Black person and woman to hold that position Andrea Cabral.
It is congratulation to Kim Janey. Like Tom Menino she will have the opportunity to demonstrate to the citizens of Boston her competence. But in the fall election she will be facing stiff opposition from other qualified candidates from varying ethnic backgrounds. The race is on. It should provide much excitement to the Boston folk unlike the period from James Michael Curley’s time to the present where the incumbent always seemed to win. I am sure Mayor Janey hopes at least that tradition holds.