Story at a glance
- A new report by the Reflective Democracy campaign analyzes the shifting demographics of elected officials in the 100 largest cities in the United States.
- The study found women and people of color are more represented in local politics than previous years.
- Still, white men make up a disproportionate number of these elected officials.
A record number of Black women were elected as mayor in 2019, a landmark moment for representation in elected office. But a study released this month of the 100 largest cities in the United States shows that white men are still overrepresented in positions of power.
“Given everything that has been happening in cities particularly over the last few months around policing and racial discrimination and the pandemic and the politics around that,” said Brenda Choresi Carter, director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, which advocates for increased diversity in elected office. “We felt it was a really important time to understand who is making the decisions.”
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The “everything” that Carter is referring to includes a global pandemic and months of protests over police violence against Black Americans. With their cities in the spotlight, the mayors and elected officials of the country’s 100 largest cities have made headlines, often clashing with state and national leaders and politicians.
The report, "Confronting the Demographics of Power: America’s Cities," examined the changing demographics of elected officials on the local level, including mayors, council members, administrative officials and attorneys.
“There’s a pretty significant shift happening. There is real change brewing in these cities. When given the opportunity voters in cities will elect leaders who actually reflect the population,” Carter said.
Women of color are driving this change, increasing their share of elected offices by 46 percent, according to the study. Since 2016, when 39 cities had women or people of color as mayors, 54 cities have now elected women or people of color to the mayor’s office. People of color increased their share of elected offices in 58 cities, while women increased their share of elected offices in 49 cities.
“We’re starting from a place of incredible inequality so tracking change in this arena is generally slow going,” she said. “The change that we’re seeing in cities absolutely is taking place against a backdrop of really extreme inequality in political power.”
The change was distributed across cities in red and blue states, Carter said, and showed that voters across party affiliation valued diversity in their elected officials.
White men, who make up 19 percent of the total population in America’s largest 100 cities, currently hold 36 percent of city elected offices — down from 42 percent in 2016. But there’s still further to go, the study shows. In 79 cities, the percentage of white people in office still exceeds the percentage of white people in the population, and in 45 cities, men hold two-thirds or more of the seats.
Of the 10 largest cities in America, only Philadelphia, San Antonio and San Jose have elected leaders who reflect the racial makeup of their cities. In four cities — including Miami – the study reported zero women in elected office.
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