A group of Black Bostonians working to marshal the city’s Black voters behind a single African-American candidate for mayor endorsed acting Mayor Kim Janey Saturday.
WAKANDA II members said they went through six months of weekly meetings, forums, surveys from 200 locals, and almost a hundred pages of returned questionnaires from mayoral candidates before deciding they would back Janey.
“No candidate will win without a substantial level of support from Black Boston. That's just a fact,” the group said in an email. It described the scoring totals as “tight,” and that when all the “tallies were in, Kim Janey was the choice.”
WAKANDA II would not share the vote tally or winning margin.
A press conference outside of Flames Restaurant on Saturday never came to fruition due to a single protester on a megaphone blasting an alarm. Attempts to conduct interviews in the restaurant were foiled by the man, who did not want to give GBH his name, and who WAKANDA II leaders said had mental health issues. Leaders like Rev. Willie Bodick II of Twelfth Baptist Church were set to speak, along with others. A group of interviews occurred in Janey’s Jamaica Plain headquarters later.
“This is the candidate we think will be most responsive to the specific issues of concern to the Black and brown community of Boston,” said former state senator Dianne Wilkerson, who spearheaded the effort.
Wilkerson said the time is ripe for Black political activism, and that there has been a “racial reckoning” in the middle of the pandemic that can’t be ignored. Members of WAKANDA II said they’re not asking any other candidate to withdraw from the race.
Janey told GBH News she is “honored and humbled” to receive the endorsement from the group that encompasses a number of Black community leaders. She spoke of racial equity and pushing Black and brown residents to the front of policy conversations, especially with the ongoing pandemic.
“From day one as mayor I’ve led with millions of dollars investing into community groups that have relationships on the ground that can get more and more residents of Boston vaccinated,” she said, adding her “entire life and career” have been about racial equity. Janey said she didn’t have any thoughts on the single protester that disrupted her endorsement rally.
Janey recently faced outcry for comparing the idea of mandating proof of vaccination to slavery-era freedom papers and birtherism.
Wilkerson called the comments a “misspeak,” and that although she doesn’t agree with the comparison, she understood what Janey was trying to say.
“She’s gonna make other flubs, because that’s what politicians do,” said Wilkerson, who said former Mayor Tom Menino was often called “mumbles” and people seemed to embrace that.
Janey is one of three Black candidates for mayor, along with district Councilor Andrea Campbell and John Barros, the former Chief of Economic Development for the city. At-large City Councilor Michelle Wu is Asian, and at-Large Councilor Annissa Essaibi George’s parents were Polish and Tunisian immigrants.
About 500 voters citywide participated in WAKANDA II’s survey process, and a group of undecided Black voters graded questionnaires and ranked candidates.
Among the issues important to WAKANDA II members was education, and the third school year being disrupted by COVID-19. Wilkerson said the pandemic continues to play out differently for Black children versus white children. Most Black children, she said, couldn’t access tutors that white families could more easily afford, and often don’t have access to reliable wireless internet.
“We’re frightened about what that means, and what it means for them to catch up,” said Wilkerson.
During the questionnaire portion of the decision, some candidates had overly cautious answers that didn’t sit well with members, said Wilkerson.
“Caution doesn’t do well for black folks that are living on that edge,” she said.
“Acting mayor Kim Janey has done many positive things while she’s been in office, I just think Black and brown constituents of Boston need to unite behind one candidate. She’s there, she’s in the office, she’s the first black woman mayor of the city, and I think we should put all of our efforts into making sure she has a successful campaign," said Acia Adams-Heath, a Dorchester resident and affordable housing activist in her late 40s. "We need to support black women. Period. That’s it.”
WAKANDA was initially launched in during the 2018 race for Suffolk district attorney, and vetted recommendations for that office. They relaunched this winter as WAKANDA II. Wakanda is the name of a fictional country in the Black Panther movie whose inhabitants are Black. Wilkerson said in the film, their intelligence is celebrated and uplifted, and the name seemed like the perfect backdrop for the group’s mission.
The group was impressed with what they called Janey “keenly zoning in” on Mattapan’s low vaccination rate.
“The City of Boston’s public health commission has taken charge, at her direction, of coordinating a Mattapan community response. That to me is a refreshing change for Mattapan,” said Wilkerson.
Danny Rivera, 20, from Mattapan, said there’s “great urgency right now within the black community to organize around a Black and brown agenda.”
Rivera is a musician and artist who worked with Janey when she was city council president, and is impressed by her accessibility and willingness to look at issues faced by artists who can’t afford to live in the areas they present in.
‘“It’s not enough to hand someone a piece of paper saying “go campaign for me,”’ he said. “It’s about sitting down and having meaningful conversations about what needs to be fixed what needs to be done, and Kim has constantly been availing herself and putting herself in uncomfortable situations for the sake of all of us.”