Local Politics 101: The Role of a Mayor

Politics is personal and it starts at the local level. Local elected officials are the ones who make decisions that affect our everyday lives and impact communities. In this new series on our blog, we’re taking an in-depth look at local elected offices. We’re starting with mayors, so keep reading to learn more about what a mayor is, what they do and how you can become one. 

What is a Mayor? 

A mayor is a chief executive official of a city or town, appointed by a city council or elected by the voters. Mayors function as the executive branch of the local government. A mayor represents only one city, and a mayor’s tenure and term limit vary from one city to another, even within the same state. The role of a mayor differs according to the city’s or town’s local form of government.

There are five forms of local government: mayor-council form, council-manager form, commission form, open town meeting, and representative town meeting. However, the most common forms are mayor-council and council-manager. Depending on the authority and legal power handed over to a mayor, the mayor is differentiated into a strong and weak mayor in a mayor-council form. The strong-mayor form is the most common form of local government in affluent cities in the United States. Usually, a strong mayor is elected by the people and a weak mayor is appointed by the elected city council. A strong mayor has more authority, including the power to veto. The City Council holds more executive power than the mayor in a weak-mayor form compared to a strong-mayor form. The mayors of bigger cities, such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, are regarded as strong mayors within the mayor-council system. 

What are the responsibilities of a Mayor? 

From addressing the issues of a power outage to COVID-19, a mayor performs various non-partisan roles in the city which vary according to the form of local government. The mayor serves on the city council, which is a body of elected legislators who serve the municipality. One of the fundamental responsibilities of a mayor is to ensure that the laws are well enforced in the city or town. Mayors also play a vital role in making the city budget as they allocate the sum of money that the city spends on certain issues, such as public transportation, local businesses, COVID-19 relief, and so on. A mayor helps to create employment opportunities for people in the city’s government and helps to run the city smoothly. 

How do you run for Mayor? 

There are different credentials to run for a mayoral election depending on the city or town you live in. It’s important to look at your local government’s election board website to know the requirements to become a mayor. The common requirements include a candidate to be at least 18 years old, a resident of the city or town that the candidate wants to serve in, and a registered voter. But it is especially important to have experience working in the community. 

Mayors play an important role in cities and towns across the country. Jocelyn Yow, IGNITE’s Policy Manager, has recently made history as the youngest woman of color to be Mayor in California. Yow, 25, will serve as Mayor in Eastvale, California after joining the Eastvale City Council in 2018. You can make history, too! Check out this guide on how to run for public office. 

Local elections are pivotal in the robust development of cities, no matter how large or small they are. The most impactful decisions that directly affect our day-to-day lives, such as water, police, transportation, sanitation, COVID-19, and so forth, are made by local elected officials, including mayors. It is the civic duty of informed citizens to register to vote and hold the elected officials accountable to make a difference in the community. The mayor represents you and serves your needs at the local level you live in, so make sure you vote! 

At IGNITE, we’re here to help more young women step into political leadership. Train with us starting today.