Two New England politicians have been chosen to join the Biden administration: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for labor secretary and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo for commerce secretary.
Both have been rumored to be in the running for Cabinet posts for months. But after months of evading questions about whether they'd want to join the administration, Walsh, 53, and Raimondo, 49, confirmed their interest Thursday night.
Walsh released this statement in a tweet: "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. As Secretary of Labor, I’ll work just as hard for you as you do for your families and livelihoods. You have my word."
Raimondo said her state has a "mighty" economy bolstered by small businesses and technological innovation.
"As Secretary of Commerce, I will harness that same American ingenuity to create good-paying union jobs and build our economy back better than ever before," Raimondo said on Twitter.
The news, confirmed Thursday night, broke as Biden was announcing his choice for attorney general, federal judge and one-time Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
"This team will help us emerge from the most inequitable economic and jobs crisis in modern history by building an economy where every American is in on the deal," President-elect Joe Biden said in a statement. "They share my belief that the middle class built this country and that unions built the middle class."
If Walsh does leave for Washington, Boston will have its first Black and female mayor, Kim Janey, who as president of the Boston City Council would become acting mayor. She said in a statement she is "ready to take the reins and lead our city through these difficult times."
It will also open up the 2021 mayoral race, which councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell have already entered. Both supported Biden tapping Walsh.
A former union worker and labor leader, the mayor has had the backing of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, one of the most powerful union figures in the country. And other politicians around the city and state were delighted about the news.
Walsh "will bring the commitment to workers and working families that is desperately needed right now. His tremendous leadership in Boston on climate action, health care, and social justice make him ready on day 1," Sen. Ed Markey said.
Biden and Walsh have also had a long friendship. When Walsh was re-elected for his second term, Biden swore him in. And Walsh campaigned for Biden in New Hampshire.
At a news conference he held on Tuesday, Walsh acknowledged that he'd heard long-swirling rumors about him becoming secretary of labor. But asked if he had been in touch with the Biden team, he pivoted to the importance of his job as mayor amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 1,000 people in Boston.
"What I've been focused on quite honestly in the last nine months," he said, was the city of Boston.
Asked if he had any interest in the job, Walsh only said, "I love being mayor of Boston." And he wouldn't speculate on what he'd say if Biden, who takes office Jan. 20, asked him to join his administration.
Raimondo has been rumored for a Cabinet post, though which one has been in flux. In December, a source on the Biden transition team told NBC News she was a "leading contender" to secretary of health and human services.
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But whenever she was asked about reports she could join the Biden administration, Raimondo said her focus was on Rhode Island.
If she leaves the governor's office, Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, a fellow Democrat and the former mayor of Cumberland, would take over.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker was holding a news conference when the first reports were published, and was asked about Walsh heading to Washington.
"I talk to Mayor Walsh almost every day about one thing or another. I have not talked to him today and I have not talked to him about the labor position in Washington."
Biden choosing Walsh was no surprise, according to Boston University political historian Tom Whalen.
"I think Biden appreciated his straight-forward nature, his plain-talk," he said. "It comes from a common background that they both share, that he is not about pretention, that he has an easy-going manner about him. And I think they both share, Biden and Walsh, kind of a soft touch."
UMass Boston political science professor Erin O'Brien also said their similarities pushed Biden toward picking Walsh, noting that the mayor had to overcome concerns from some people that selecting him would deprive the Cabinet of diversity.
But Walsh's work in the labor community was also a credit to his candidacy, she said: "Marty's been pathbreaking on getting communities of color into the trade unions and seeing labor as more than just workers -- what about low-wage service workers?"
Moreover, Boston could benefit from having its former mayor advising the president.
"If you're in the room, you bring up issues that are close to home, or were home," O'Brien said.