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Examines the various strategies for overcoming the formal and informal constraints on a mayor’s power

Governing the Ungovernable City

Political Skill, Leadership, and the Modern Mayor

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Barbara Ferman

How does a skillful mayor acquire the power necessary to govern in a time of dwindling resources? This book examines the various strategies for overcoming the formal and informal constraints on a mayor’s power. Through a comparative analysis of mayoral leadership in Boston and San Francisco, and with extensive references to other cities, Barbara Ferman challenges the concepts that strong mayoral power is unattainable and that cities are ungovernable.

In contrast to many earlier works that looked at only outputs and outcomes, this book examines the dynamics of how a mayor operates in his environment. The study demonstrates that despite the obstacles to the mayor’s ability to govern which the political system and political culture generate, certain mayors manipulate contextual factors to advantage. The book is divided according to the different arenas in which the mayor operates; the structural coherence of the study clarifies the relationship among strategies, resources, and arenas. Topics include the difference between electoral and governing coalitions, the relationship of conflict to political organization, the use of managerial devices to control bureaucracy, the manipulation of the federal presence in local politics, and the use of development strategies in the private sector.

Since many of the issues addressed in this book are applicable to every level of government, this book is an informative tool for understanding the dynamics of effective leadership, of political behavior, and of organizational development at the state and national levels. In addition, the book identifies for us the costs of acquiring power as well as the costs of weak leadership. In a provocative analysis, the author traces the mayor’s dilemma to the anti-power bias of American political culture and concludes with recommendations for strengthening political mechanisms that increase accountability.

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About the Author(s)

Barbara Ferman holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Brandeis University and is Special Assistant for Policy Analysis and Program Development with Community Development Agency in New York City.

Subject Categories

Political Science and Public Policy

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