This paper explores the state of mayoral powers in a shifting political economy and governance landscape; identifies ongoing challenges for research, policy, and practice; and recommend ways to address them. The study began as an investigation of city charter challenges, but expanded to address the heightened urgency of the current political moment and the looming federalist crisis in the United States. The analysis primarily centers on the United States with a U.S. audience in mind, but illustrative examples from countries such as the United Kingdom and Chile help provide important international context for emerging city leadership dynamics around the world.
A clearer articulation of the underlying governance structures in cities and the ways they are evolving will help mayors and other city leaders stay grounded and govern more effectively in a rapidly changing world. The lessons from mayors solving problems and making progress in spite of constraints on their formal powers and available resources are even more necessary today, as federal resources and leadership on critical urban issues are on a steep decline and the gulf between urban policy preferences and state and federal priorities widens. Though cities and governance contexts vary tremendously around the world, some generalizable insights can guide and inspire efforts to strengthen mayoral leadership in cities around the world.