The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The country’s largest cities have Black mayors — but maybe not for long

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) speaks during an election night Tuesday. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images)
2 min

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) will not be mayor much longer. On Tuesday, the incumbent lost her bid for reelection, placing third in the city’s first round of voting for the position.

There are obvious repercussions for Lightfoot and the city. But there’s another interesting pattern that might change with Lightfoot’s ouster.

For the first time in American history, the mayors of the five largest cities in the country are not White men. Four — the mayors of the four largest cities — are Black. If Paul Vallas, a White man, wins the April runoff to replace Lightfoot, that pattern will be broken.

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There’s a lot of American history conveyed in the following graphic, showing the demography of the mayors of the 10 largest cities each year since 1920. There are two important pieces of context to consider as you read it. First, that the graphic shows the race and gender of whoever served the longest period in a year, for occasions on which a city had multiple mayors (due to resignations or transfers of power, for example). Second, the ranking of cities often switched between censuses, but this looks at the 10 largest cities as identified in each census year.

You can see patterns that show how America has changed. The country has gotten more diverse, and that diversity is (to some extent) reflected in civic leadership. You can also see how the country’s population has moved south and west; Cleveland and Pittsburgh were replaced in the top 10 with cities such as Dallas and Phoenix.

One pattern you can’t see is the overlap of race and politics. Big cities now tend to be run by Democrats, a reflection of the electorate in the cities. The Democratic Party has far more Black and Hispanic members than the Republican Party, contributing to the increased diversity over time.

At the very bottom, you can see the initial point. The five largest cities are New York (as it has always been), Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix. The largest four all have Black mayors. The mayor of Phoenix is Kate Gallego.

That dot above Chicago, though, may turn to a gray-outlined circle, like all of the mayors on the chart before the election of Carl Stokes in Cleveland in 1967. The period in which the mayors of the four largest cities were all Black will have lasted about six months.