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Boston mayor compares Covid vaccine passport to slavery freedom papers

Mayor Kim Janey, who made the comments after being asked about New York City's proof of vaccination requirements, said Thursday she regretted invoking slavery and birtherism.
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Acting Mayor Kim Janey in Boston on July 26, 2021.Pat Greenhouse / Boston Globe via Getty Images

The acting mayor of Boston compared the idea of Covid-19 vaccination passports to slavery-era freedom papers and birtherism.

Mayor Kim Janey, a Democrat who is running for a full term, made the comments Tuesday after she was questioned about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing proof of vaccination in order to enjoy leisure indoor activities at restaurants, gyms and performances. The Big Apple will become the first major city in the United States to impose the requirement.

"Here in Boston, we continue to focus on vaccine access, opportunity, information to residents all throughout Boston," Janey told reporters. "We want to make sure that we're giving every opportunity for folks to get vaccinated."

"When it comes to what businesses may choose to do, we know that those types of things are difficult to enforce when it comes to vaccine," the mayor continued. "There's a long history in this country of people needing to show their papers, whether we're talking about this from the standpoint, you know, of ... after, during slavery, post-slavery. As recent as, you know, what immigrant population has to go through here."

Janey went on to reference when former President Donald Trump launched a baseless attack on Barack Obama's citizenship and demanded Obama show his birth certificate to prove he was an American citizen. Trump's claims, commonly known as birtherism, have been repeatedly debunked.

"We heard Trump with the birth certificate nonsense. Here we want to make sure that we are not doing anything that would further create a barrier for residents of Boston or disproportionately impact BIPOC communities," Janey told reporters, referring to black, Indigenous and people of color communities.

"Instead, we want to lean in heavy with partnering with community organizations, making sure that everyone has access to the life-saving vaccine," she said.

The mayor's remarks drew some criticism from her Democratic challengers.

Mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell said she thought Janey's comments put "people's health at risk," NBC Boston reported.

"I heard those remarks and I was shocked," she told reporters. "It is incumbent on us as leaders not to give these conspiracies any oxygen."

Candidate Michelle Wu said she disagrees with Janey and would require vaccination proof in crowded public spaces, the news station reported.

"Anyone in a position of leadership right now should be using that platform to build trust in the vaccines," Wu said.

Janey initially brushed aside the criticism and said that the focus should remain on the "life-saving vaccine."

On Thursday, she said that she regrets invoking slavery and birtherism in her remarks.

“I wish I had not used those analogies, because the took away from the important issue of ensuring that our vaccination and public health policies are implemented with fairness and equity,” Janey said, according to the Boston Globe.