Strong Mayor Form of Government

Rahm Emanuel
Rahm Emanuel. danxoneil/Flickr/CC 2.0

The strong mayor form of government is headed by the mayor who serves as the city’s chief executive and the city council who serve as the city’s legislative body. This separation of power is much like that between the US Congress and the President as outlined in the Constitution.

The Role of the Council

The city council adopts legislation under the city government’s authority as granted by state law and allowed under the city charter.

Precisely how council members are elected varies by city. City council members may be elected at large, from single-member districts or in some combination. Some city councils have the right to approve high-level city staff appointments.

The Role of the Mayor

The mayor serves as the chief executive officer of the city. In terms of official authority -- and often in terms of influence -- the mayor is clearly the most powerful person in the city government. While there may be some city-specific exceptions, all city staff ultimately report to the mayor. In some cities, the mayor has veto authority over actions taken by the city council.

Many large cities use the strong mayor form of government because of the many political influences acting on the city. Advocates of the council-manager system point out that under the strong mayor system interest groups can accomplish their goals by influencing the mayor rather than convincing a majority of city council members.

Depending on the events of the day, the mayor may have contact with the President of the United States. This contact was evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Then New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had many photo opportunities President George W. Bush. The same was true of New York Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

The mayoral post in a strong-mayor city is a very desirable job for political players. Rahm Emanuel left his White House Chief of Staff position under President Barack Obama to run for mayor in Chicago. He won the election and assumed the office on May 16, 2011.

The Role of the Manager

Unlike the council-manager form of government, cities with the strong mayor form of government do not have a city manager. Department heads report directly to the mayor. A chief of staff may serve as the mayor’s right-hand person in dealing with the day-to-day operations of the city so that the mayor may have a more external focus.

Also Known As

  • Mayor-council form of government
  • Mayor-commission form of government