(TNS) — Boston, Mass., Mayor Martin Walsh is President-elect Joe Biden's pick for Labor secretary, setting up a monumental shake-up of the Hub's political landscape.
Walsh is a longtime labor leader who was the president of Local 223 and then head of the Boston Building Trades before being elected mayor in 2013. He is a favorite of the AFL-CIO, which pushed for his nomination to the department overseeing workforce and labor policy.
Announcing the pick, Biden's campaign wrote Walsh "has worked tirelessly to rebuild the middle class, create a more inclusive, resilient economy, and fight for workers in his hometown."
Walsh, a 53-year-old Dorchester native who's the son of Irish immigrants, rose to power through his labor ties and a compelling personal story, including surviving childhood cancer and remaining in recovery for alcoholism for more than two decades. Walsh is a popular and highly visible mayor in Boston, a city that's seen development boom during his tenure, and he's seen as handling the coronavirus pandemic effectively.
But the mayor's administration has had labor-related dust-ups, most recently regarding the federal criminal charges related to accusations that his top lieutenants pressured the Boston Calling music festival organizers to use union workers. The pair were convicted — before a judge then threw out the decisions and acquitted them both.
Earlier in Walsh's tenure, his administration took flak for connections to four Teamsters charged with threatening "Top Chef" employees over that television show's use of nonunion labor. Testimony entwined Walsh's City Hall in that scandal, but the mayor claimed vindication after the jury found the Teamsters not guilty in 2017.
Walsh didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.
"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 said. "As Secretary of Labor, I'll work just as hard for you as you do for your families and livelihoods. You have my word."
Walsh, a former state representative, is personal friends with Biden, who presided over the mayor's second inauguration. But he didn't endorse Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, which also included Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with whom Walsh has a good relationship.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, the powerful Ways & Means Committee chair from Western Massachusetts, said in a statement, "Throughout his career he has been a champion for worker's rights and I am confident that he will succeed in this new position in the Biden Administration."
Walsh for months now has downplayed speculation about the Labor nomination, saying in November that he expects to be mayor for years to come. And people close to him have said he's done the same privately, too — many expected him to want to remain mayor in the city where he grew up, and where he still takes care of his mother. Many Boston politicians, including those friendly with the mayor, were caught by the surprise as the news broke.
If Walsh indeed leaves, City Council President Kim Janey becomes acting mayor. She'd be the highest-ranking Black official in the city's history.
Walsh was quickly congratulated by labor unions — and by his presumed mayoral opponents City Councilors Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu, the latter of whom immediately began fundraising off of the announcement.
"There is much work to do to clean up the backwards, anti-worker politics of the Trump administration that have hurt so many here in our city, and Boston needs a partner to fight for working families at the federal level," Wu wrote in an email to supporters.
Campbell said in a statement, "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."
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