Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy > Vol 2 > Issue 2

What Makes a Good Local Leader? Evidence from U.S. Mayors and City Managers

Maria Carreri, School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, USA, , Julia Payson, Department of Politics, New York University, USA,
Suggested Citation
Maria Carreri and Julia Payson (2021), "What Makes a Good Local Leader? Evidence from U.S. Mayors and City Managers", Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy: Vol. 2: No. 2, pp 199-225.

Publication Date: 10 Jun 2021
© 2021 M. Carreri and J. Payson
Political Economy,  Urban Politics
Political selectionmayorscity managerselite surveyslocal political economy


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In this article:
Theoretical Perspectives on Candidate Quality and Political Selection 
Data Collection and Survey 
Descriptive Evidence on Local Political Selection 
Expanding Measures of Quality: Public Service Motivation and Managerial Skill 
Where Do High-Quality Leaders Emerge? 
Do Leaders with Different Traits Have Different Policy Goals? 


What are the traits of a good local leader? While most studies of local officials focus on the mayors of large cities, 85% of municipalities in the United States have a population of less than 20,000. We conduct in-depth phone interviews with nearly 300 mayors and city managers from predominantly small and mid-sized cities in the United States to learn about their backgrounds. We focus on two standard ability measures (education and prior occupation) and draw from research in public administration and economics to introduce two new dimensions of quality: public service motivation and managerial skill. We paint a comprehensive descriptive portrait of the respondents in our sample and the cities they represent, and we then examine whether these traits matter for the policy goals that local leaders choose to focus on during their time in office. These results offer a promising new approach for researchers studying political leadership and its consequences, both in the local context and beyond.



Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy, Volume 2, Issue 2 Special Issue - Local Political Economy
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.