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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Is Biden's Pick For U.S. Labor Secretary03:19
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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced the postponement of the Boston Marathon during a news conference last March. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced the postponement of the Boston Marathon during a news conference last March. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is President-elect Joe Biden's pick for U.S. labor secretary, lending credence to Biden's pledge to be "the most pro-union president you've ever seen."

Walsh headed the Boston Building Trades Council, representing about 35,000 union construction workers, before he was elected mayor in 2013.

"Mayor Walsh has worked tirelessly to rebuild the middle class, create a more inclusive, resilient economy, and fight for workers in his hometown — including fighting for a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave," the Biden transition team said in a statement. "During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Walsh is working to support frontline workers, including funding emergency child care and other resources essential workers need to weather the pandemic."

Politico first reported Walsh's selection Thursday afternoon.

If confirmed by the Senate, Walsh will leave City Hall with about a year remaining in his second term. He had not yet said whether he would seek reelection.

Two city councilors, Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell, are running for mayor. Either would be the first woman and the first person of color elected to lead Boston. City Council President Kim Janey will be acting mayor, in the interim. She will be the first woman of color ever to serve in that role.

"I'm thrilled to send congratulations to Mayor Walsh on this nomination," Wu said in an interview. "It's an important time for the labor movement in America."

"I think it's great news," Campbell added. "I, of course, called our mayor to congratulate him on the nomination. And given not only his personal experience, in being a member of a union, but also his professional experience, in working with unions, fighting for working people, I think this is a great thing."

Campbell and Wu also tweeted about Walsh's selection.

Noting the coronavirus pandemic and Wednesday's insurrection the U.S. Capitol, Campbell went on, in a statement: "The realities of deep division in our country and city have never been more clear than they have this year. ... For Boston, there’s so much at stake in 2021 as we look to recover from this pandemic and reimagine what our city can be without persistent inequities. I know Mayor Walsh will be a partner in that work in this new role.”

Massachusetts' two Democratic senators, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, also praised Walsh and highlighted his experience as a union leader.

Walsh would be the first union member to serve as labor secretary in almost half a century, as Wu noted in her tweet.

It's about time, said Frank Callahan, who heads the same construction union Walsh once led.

"We've actually been frustrated over a number of years, where we get an academic or someone with a theoretical background in labor economics," Callahan said. "Actually having someone who's gone to work on a construction site every day has a lot of value, too."

Walsh spent most of his union career in desk jobs. But he brings a blue-collar attitude to white-collar work, said Sean O'Brien, president of Teamsters Local 25 in Boston.

"He comes from a family of Irish immigrants, a very proud family — working-class family," O'Brien said. "But he's also run a pretty big city, so he recognizes the importance of both business and working people."

Walsh's nomination may disappoint people who hoped Biden would pick a woman or a person of color, though the president-elect appears to be assembling a diverse cabinet overall.

Representation was also shaping up as a key issue in this year's mayoral race. Boston is a majority-minority city whose mayors have all been white men.

Campbell said she launched her campaign because she believed it was time to combat inequality with renewed energy, "and the only way I thought that this city could address that is if we elected new leadership that not only understood those inequities but has lived them, and has done the work to bring people together to confront it. That's what this campaign is about. That won't change."

One thing that could change is the field. With Walsh out of the picture, some other public officials are reportedly mulling bids.

"This is a moment in our city that's incredibly important to chart out our future, and we need to have a full, honest, comprehensive conversation across every community about what that future should look like," Wu said. "So, I'm excited for the conversation in the months ahead."

It could be a few months before Walsh leaves office, if confirmed, which may determine whether there is a special election before the regular election in November. After President Trump's inauguration in 2017, his labor secretary didn't earn Senate approval until late April.

This article was originally published on January 07, 2021.

This segment aired on January 8, 2021.

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Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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