America’s newest mayors are younger, more diverse

Bloomberg Cities
Nov 20, 2018 · 3 min read
Five of the 54 new U.S. mayors elected this month, from left to right: Sally Russell of Bend, Ore.; Najwa Massad of Mankato, Minn.; Jonathan Judd of Moorhead, Minn.; Harry Singh Sidhu of Anaheim, Calif., and Alejandra Sotelo-Solis of National City, Calif.

By Michelle Diggles, Ph.D.

With most eyes focused on federal and gubernatorial elections on Nov. 6, few noticed the changes occurring at the local level as some 178 U.S. cities held mayoral elections. While we are still awaiting results in 14 cities — with some headed to a runoff and others a likely recount — the early data suggests that America’s mayors are getting younger and more diverse.

The state with the largest number of mayoral elections was California, featuring 67 contests. There were also 19 mayoral races in Minnesota, 17 in Florida, and 12 in Texas. Of the 178 mayoral elections on Tuesday, 164 races have a declared winner. Among those, 110 mayors were reelected, and 54 new mayors won their contests.

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Those 54 new mayors are younger — there are five new Millennial mayors — and more diverse — one-third are women and 28 percent are Hispanic or nonwhite. Overall, the results from the 164 races with declared winners show:

  • An increase in the share of female mayors, from 26 percent (42 female mayors) prior to the election to 30 percent (49 female mayors) after;
  • An increase in the share of black mayors, from 3 percent (5 black mayors) prior to the election to 7 percent (12 black mayors) after;
  • An increase in the share of Hispanic mayors, from 7 percent (12 Hispanic mayors) prior to the election to 10 percent (17 Hispanic mayors) after; and,
  • A decrease in the average age of mayors, from 59 prior to the election to 56 after.

There were several historic firsts on Tuesday, especially in the land of 10,000 lakes. Richfield, Minn., Mayor-elect Maria Regan Gonzalez became the first-ever Latina mayor elected in the state. In Mankato, the first female mayor, Najwa Massad, was elected on Tuesday. And Moorhead elected its first African-American mayor, Jonathan Judd.

Elsewhere, Sally Russell was elected the first female mayor of Bend, Ore. Robert Blythe was elected the first African-American mayor of Richmond, Ky. And two California cities celebrated historic firsts: Alejandra Sotelo-Solis was elected as National City’s first Latina mayor, and Harry Singh Sidhu was elected as Anaheim first Sikh mayor.

While November’s elections resulted in a younger and more diverse group of mayors in the cities holding contests, changes over the course of 2018 are much more mixed. For example, since January, the total number of female mayors has increased by only two, from 306 to 308. While women may be winning more Congressional elections, there is room for growth at the municipal level.

The share of mayors who are Asian American or Hispanic edged up by one point apiece during 2018, as the number of non-Hispanic, white mayors declined by 19, moving from 86 percent of mayors to 84 percent of mayors. And the average age of mayors shifted slightly, from 58 years of age to 57.

Indeed, 2018 demonstrates a divergence in mayoral elections: a more diverse group of mayors being elected during the federal midterms than throughout the rest of the year. One potential cause of this divergence is who turns out to vote. A recent analysis of election turnout data concluded that older citizens were 15 times more likely to vote in local elections than younger citizens.

Municipal elections held in the spring and summer — and not coinciding with the much-hyped federal elections — result in much less participation by younger voters, who trail their elders in turnout rates even in presidential election years. This month’s high youth turnout suggests that holding municipal contests simultaneously with federal ones doesn’t only boost participation, it could also result in a more diverse group of city leaders.