Boston’s acting mayor, Kim Janey, made waves this week by comparing vaccine passports to racist policies that required Black people to show their identification papers. Her unscripted comments drew sharp criticism from her political rivals and from Mayor Bill DeBlasio of New York.
Asked on Tuesday whether she supported requiring people to show proof of vaccination when they enter restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other indoor public spaces — a measure being introduced in New York City — Ms. Janey warned that such policies would disproportionately affect communities of color.
“There’s a long history in this country of people needing to show their papers — whether we are talking about this from the standpoint of, you know, during slavery, post-slavery, as recent as, you know, what the immigrant population has to go through,” she said. “We’ve heard Trump, with the birth-certificate nonsense.”
Ms. Janey tried to walk back that comparison on Thursday.
“I wish I had not used those analogies, because they took away from the important issue of ensuring our vaccination and public health policies,” she said.
But she did not withdraw her critique of the policies requiring proof of vaccination.
If the credentials were required to enter businesses today, she said, “that would shut out nearly 40 percent of East Boston and 60 percent of Mattapan,” neighborhoods with large Black and Latino populations. “Instead of shutting people out, shutting out our neighbors who are disproportionately poor people of color, we are knocking on their doors to build trust and to expand access to the lifesaving vaccines.”
She added that Boston has a mask mandate for its schools, and is working with labor unions toward mandating vaccination for city workers.
Her remarks on Tuesday, five weeks before Boston’s preliminary mayoral election, had already drawn fire from several directions. City Councilor Andrea Campbell, a rival candidate in the race who, like Ms. Janey, is Black, called the acting mayor’s comparison “absolutely ridiculous” and said it “put people’s health at risk, plain and simple.”
“There is already too much misinformation directed at our residents about this pandemic, particularly our Black and brown residents in Boston and in the commonwealth, and it is incumbent upon us as leaders not to give these conspiracies any oxygen,” she said at a news conference.
Ms. Campbell added, “This is not the time to be stoking fears.”
Mr. DeBlasio was scathing when asked on Thursday about Ms. Janey’s comments.
“I am hoping and praying she hasn’t heard the details and has been improperly briefed, because those statements are absolutely inappropriate,” he said. “I am assuming the interim mayor hasn’t heard the whole story, because I can’t believe she would say it’s OK to leave so many people unvaccinated and in danger.”
Mr. DeBlasio said New York had embraced a “voluntary approach” for seven months, and “it’s time for something more muscular.”