Mayoralty in the United States

In the United States, there are several distinct types of mayors, depending on the system of local government.

Types of mayoralty


Many American mayors are styled as "His/Her Honor" while in office.



Under council–manager government, the mayor is a first among equals on the city council, analogous to a head of state for the city. They may chair the city council, lacking any special legislative powers, but in most cases able to set the legislative agenda. The mayor and city council serve part-time, with day-to-day administration in the hands of a professional city manager. The system is most common among medium-sized cities from around 25,000 to several hundred thousand, usually rural and suburban municipalities.[1]



In the second form, known as mayor–council government, the mayoralty and city council are separate offices. Under a strong mayor system, the mayor acts as an elected executive with the city council functioning with legislative powers. They may select a chief administrative officer to oversee the different departments. This is the system used in most of the United States' large cities, primarily because mayors serve full-time and have a wide range of services that they oversee. In a weak mayor or ceremonial mayor system, the mayor has appointing power for department heads but is subject to checks by the city council, sharing both executive and legislative duties with the council. This is common for smaller cities, especially in New England (where most towns do not even have mayors at all). Charlotte, North Carolina and Minneapolis, Minnesota are two notable large cities with a ceremonial mayor.[2]



Long-serving mayors of large cities are not common because as many cities have term limits or see turnover in leadership due to elections or other factors.[3][4] Political scientists, historians and journalists have covered the famously good and notoriously bad mayors in history.[5]

New York City


Four mayors of New York have served 12 years: Fiorello H. La Guardia (1934–1945), Robert F. Wagner Jr. (1954–1965), Ed Koch (1978–1989) and Michael Bloomberg (2002–2013).

Fiorello LaGuardia was a charismatic and influential mayor of New York City for 12 years (1934-1945) during the Great Depression and World War II. He was a Republican who fought against the Democratic Party of Tammany Hall with a coalition of Republicans, liberals and leftists. He worked closely with the liberal Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. An effective and beloved leader, he was known for his progressive policies and his crusade against corruption.[6]

When running for his third term, Robert F. Wagner Jr. broke with the Tammany Hall leadership, ending the clubhouse's reign in city politics.

Ed Koch served as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, a total of 11 years. He was known for his tough-talking style and his success in cleaning up the city's streets and reduce crime.[7]

As the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg established public charter schools, rebuilt urban infrastructure, and supported gun control, public health initiatives, and environmental protections. He also led a rezoning of large areas of the city, which facilitated massive and widespread new commercial and residential construction after the September 11 attacks. Bloomberg is considered to have had far-reaching influence on the politics, business sector, and culture of New York City during his three terms as mayor. He has also faced significant criticism for the city's stop and frisk program, support for which he reversed with an apology before his 2020 presidential run.

Los Angeles


Tom Bradley, who served as mayor from 1973 to 1993, is the longest-serving mayor in Los Angeles history. Bradley was the city's first African-American mayor.

Antonio Villaraigosa, a Latino leader, served as the mayor of Los Angeles, from 2005 to 2013, a total of 8 years. He was the first Hispanic in over 130 years to have served as Mayor of Los Angeles. He emphasized upgrading public transit and airports, and battled youth gangs.[8]



Richard M. Daley is the longest serving mayor in Chicago's history, from 1989 to 2011. He focused on upgrading the Chicago infrastructure and the police, and diversifying the economy away from manufacturing toward services. He was criticized for greatly enlarging the city's debt.[9]

Richard J. Daley, Richard M.'s father, served as mayor of Chicago for 21 years, from 1955 until his death in 1976. He controlled the powerful Cook County Democratic machine, which generated votes and provided support in Washington and the state capital. He worked closely with the business community which flourished.[10]



Thomas Menino was the longest serving mayor in Boston's history from 1993 to 2014, a total of 21 years. He was known for his efforts to improve public safety, expand public transportation, and revitalize the city's neighborhoods.[11]

Kevin White served as mayor of Boston from 1968 to 1984, a total of 16 years. He worked to revitalize the city's downtown area and supported public schools and universities. He came under criticism for his handling of racial tensions and police brutality.[12]



Coleman Young was the longest-serving mayor in Detroit's history, serving as mayor from 1974 to 1994, a total of 20 years. He was the city's first African American mayor was known for promoting racial justice and economic development.[13]

See also



  1. ^ Svara, James H.; Nelson, Kimberly L. (2008). "Taking Stock of the Council-Manager Form at 100". Public Management. August 2008: 6–15.
  2. ^ Kathy Hayes and Semoon Chang, "The Relative Efficiency of City Manager and Mayor–Council Forms of Government". Southern Economic Journal (July 1990), 57#1: 167–177 doi:10.2307/1060487
  3. ^ Harold Wolman, Edward Page, and Martha Reavley, "Mayors and mayoral careers." Urban Affairs Quarterly 25.3 (1990): 500-514 online.
  4. ^ Andrew Douglas McNitt, "Tenure in office of big city mayors." State and Local Government Review 42.1 (2010): 36-47.
  5. ^ Melvin G. Holli, ed. The American Mayor: The Best & The Worst Big-City Leaders (Penn State Press, 1999).
  6. ^ Thomas Kessner, Fiorello H. La Guardia and the making of modern New York (1989) online
  7. ^ John H. Mollenkopf, A Phoenix in the Ashes: The Rise and Fall of the Koch Coalition in New York City Politics (Princeton University Press, 1994).
  8. ^ Boris E. Rocks, "Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles, and the politics of race." in 21st Century Urban Race Politics: Representing Minorities as Universal Interests (Emerald, 2013) pp. 163-180.
  9. ^ Costas Spirou, Building the City of Spectacle: Mayor Richard M. Daley and the Remaking of Chicago (Cornell UP, 2016).
  10. ^ Adam Cohen, and Elizabeth Taylor, American pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley-his battle for Chicago and the nation (2001).
  11. ^ Thomas B. Menino and Jack Beatty, Mayor for a New America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).
  12. ^ Martha Wagner Weinberg, "Boston's Kevin White: A mayor who survives." Political Science Quarterly 96.1 (1981): 87-106 online.
  13. ^ Wilbur C. Rich, Coleman Young and Detroit Politics: From Social Activist to Power Broker (Wayne State University Press, 1989).

Further reading

  • Adler, Jeffrey S. African-American mayors: Race, politics, and the American city (University of Illinois Press, 2001).
  • Flanagan, Richard M. "Opportunities and constraints on mayoral behavior: A historical-institutional approach." Journal of Urban Affairs 26.1 (2004): 43-65.
  • Grossman, Mark. Political corruption in America: an encyclopedia of scandals, power, and greed (Abc-Clio, 2003).
  • Holli, Melvin G. ed. The American Mayor: The Best & The Worst Big-City Leaders (Penn State Press, 1999). online
  • McNitt, Andrew D. "Big city mayors: political specialization and business domination in the 19th and 20th centuries." Journal of Urban Affairs 33.4 (2011): 431-449.