Mayors work diligently to fairly represent citizens’ interests in city matters. In pursuit of this goal, these elected officials do not work alone, but rather in tandem with city council members, other administrative representatives and the people they represent. Mayors are influential, powerful individuals, but they must understand that power is ultimately held by the voters.
Local Government Structure
The power and influence a mayor holds is determined in large part by a city’s government structure. The two most prevalent local government structures are:
Council-Weak Mayor or Council-Manager
Under the Council-Strong Mayor system the mayor has significant authority and influence. He or she is essentially the city’s chief executive, handling all administrative duties, while the city council serves as the legislative body. This system resembles the constitutionally mandated separation of powers present between the president and Congress.
A Council-Strong Mayor oversees the city’s day-to-day functions and all personnel decisions. He or she may choose to appoint a deputy mayor to manage internal city issues, thereby allowing the mayor to focus on external and political matters. The role of deputy mayor is tantamount to that of a city manager.
The city council does play an important governing role under the Strong Mayor structure, but the mayor’s responsibilities and authority are far-reaching. For instance, he or she may have the right to veto city council directives. Strong Mayors also supervise the Board of Commissioners and appoint judges.
Some believe mayors operating within this structure are uniquely susceptible to outside influence. Business people, community groups and other interested parties need not gain the approval of the city council, but rather must only convince the mayor of the efficacy of their plans.
Council-Weak Mayor or Council-Manager
The Council-Weak Mayor system stands in stark contrast to its Strong Mayor counterpart. This format is primarily used in smaller cities and municipalities. Under a Weak Mayor structure, the city council exercises great control and influence, while the mayor may be a largely ceremonial figure. Accordingly, a city manager typically oversees the city’s day-to-day management decisions.
While the mayor makes political appearances, is involved in the city’s fiscal decisions and advises the council, most city decisions are ultimately made by the council itself.
Each city’s charter governs its election process and dictates how many candidates can run for office. Most cities hold at-large elections, during which the citizens vote directly. In other cities, the mayor is selected by the city council. While election procedures may vary, all campaigns involve fundraising, public appearances and policy discussions.
Effective mayors are persuasive individuals who know how to manage, talk and listen. Citizens look to their mayor for direction, vision and reassurance.
Like any leader, mayors encounter difficult decisions. When making these decisions mayors not only examine the facts at hand, but must also consider the input of their constituents. This thoughtful management approach helps them earn the confidence of those they represent. Once this confidence has been established, a mayor is better able to gain support for his or her own city vision.
To an outsider, the mayor is the “face” of a city. Business leaders who are confident in a mayor’s capabilities are more likely set up shop, home buyers who believe the mayor is helping the town thrive are more likely to take up residence and tourists who applaud the improvements a mayor has made are more likely visit. These actions all increase the city’s revenue and benefit its citizens.
Mayoral candidates often supplement their practical work experience by pursuing a master’s in public administration (MPA). MPA programs broaden an individual’s understanding of administrative theory, financial management, economics, public policy, organizational structures and data analysis. Additionally, the collaborative nature of these programs is particularly beneficial to those seeking the office of mayor, as mayoral work is not a solitary practice.
Mayors work tirelessly to improve the lives of the people who reside in the cities they govern.