Senate confirms Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as labor secretary

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate confirmed former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as the U.S. Secretary of Labor by a 68-29 vote Monday.

A few hours after the confirmation, at 9 p.m., Walsh resigned as Boston’s mayor, thrusting former city council president Kim Janey into the role of acting mayor of Boston. She made history as the first person of color to hold the office.

“I am incredibly honored and privileged to serve as the United States’ next Secretary of Labor. I am grateful for the bipartisan support of members of the Senate, and I want to thank President Biden and Vice President Harris for their confidence in my ability to lead the Department of Labor during such a critical time in our nation’s history.

“As the son of immigrants and a former union laborer, I share their deep commitment to building an economy that works for all. I have been a fighter for the rights of working people throughout my career, and I remain committed to ensuring that everyone – especially those in our most marginalized communities – receives and benefits from full access to economic opportunity and fair treatment in the workplace. I believe we must meet this historic moment and, as the nation’s Secretary of Labor, I pledge to help our economy build back better.”

Walsh, 53, has served as the Democratic mayor of Boston since 2014. When he took the oath of office for his second term as Boston’s chief executive in 2018, Biden presided over the inauguration.

Before that, Walsh served as a state representative for more than a decade.

Walsh, a former union worker, has a long history with labor. He served as president of Laborers Local 223 and, before becoming mayor, headed up the Boston Building Trades — a union umbrella organization.

At Walsh’s second mayoral inauguration, Biden praised him for his character and efforts to create a thriving middle class, calling him a “man of extraordinary character in a moment when we need more character and incredible courage.”

“We’re at a moment when mayors and governors matter more than they ever did,” Biden said at the event. “We need leaders who will stand up against the ugly divisiveness spewing out of Washington every day.”

During his tenure as mayor, Walsh has overseen the city’s ongoing rejuvenation, which has led to challenges that include gentrification and rising housing costs.

He’s also had to grapple with the city’s history of racial tensions to try to make the city more welcoming for people of all backgrounds.

Most recently, Walsh has helped lead the city through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic with its myriad challenges, from helping maintain local businesses to ensuring widespread testing for the virus to figuring out how to maintain access to public schools.

Walsh and Biden share an Irish American background.

Last year, Biden videotaped a message for the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. The event pulls together the state’s top elected officials, Democrats and Republicans, to enjoy Irish music and food — and cringe-worthy jokes.

“We Irish, as you know, we’re dreamers, yet we’re realists. We’re spiritual, yet we are doubters. We are compassionate, yet we’re demanding. Everything in us runs deep: sadness and joy, heartache and hope, fortitude and faith,” Biden said in his message last year. “We are the only people on earth who are always nostalgic for the future.”

The son of Irish immigrants, Walsh grew up in a triple-decker in Boston’s working-class Dorchester neighborhood. As a child, he survived a four-year bout with Burkitt lymphoma starting when he was 7.

Walsh said one of the toughest things about his cancer treatment was losing his hair, which he said was red at the time and hard to match for a wig. He later recalled how someone living on the top floor of the three-family home clipped a bit of his hair and came back later with an identical red wig.

Walsh has also been forthcoming about his early struggles with alcohol and has used his history with addiction to encourage others to seek help. He began his speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention by saying: “Good evening. My name is Marty Walsh, and I’m an alcoholic.”

“On April 23, 1995, I hit rock bottom. I woke up with little memory of the night before and even less hope for the days to come,” he said at the time. “Everybody was losing faith in me, everybody except my family and the labor movement.”

Walsh’s union history has led to some awkward moments as mayor, including when two former Walsh aides were charged with bullying music festival organizers into hiring union workers.

Kenneth Brissette, the city’s former director of tourism, and Timothy Sullivan, who was chief of intergovernmental affairs, were convicted in federal court in 2019 of conspiring to extort the organizers of the Boston Calling music festival by withholding city permits.

A federal judge later tossed the convictions, saying the government failed to prove the existence of a quid pro quo.


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