For cities across the United States, 2019 will be a big year for new leadership. About one-third of all U.S. cities with more than 30,000 people held mayoral elections last year. According to a Bloomberg Cities analysis, those contests resulted in a crop of 326 new mayors.
On the whole, America’s mayors are getting younger and more diverse. Ten more Millennials hold the job now than at the start of 2018. Meanwhile, Hispanic (+10), African-American (+7), and female (+6) mayors all saw gains last year. The growing diversity is even more pronounced among big cities. Of the 100 largest U.S. cities, 26 now have female mayors and 25 have a mayor who is not white.
While municipal elections take place all year long, a surge of them took place in November and December. Here are five mayors to watch from this latest group to take office.
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Frank Scott, Jr., Little Rock, Ark.
Scott is the first African-American chosen by voters to be mayor of Little Rock. And at the age of 35, he’s not only the city’s youngest mayor in generations but also 15 years younger than the city council’s youngest member. A banker and associate pastor who grew up in one of Little Rock’s poorest neighborhoods, Scott campaigned on themes of change, transparency, and accountability. A top priority is to complete Little Rock’s ongoing transition to a strong-mayor system, in which Scott appoints department heads rather than a city manager. “Immediately following the inauguration,” he wrote last week, “I will begin operating the Mayor’s Office as the Chief Executive Officer of the City.” Scott’s government experience includes top positions in the administration of former Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, as well as the state Highway Commission.
Linda Gorton, Lexington, Ky.
Gorton, 70, is a registered nurse and experienced hand in Lexington local government. She served 16 years on the city/county council, the last four of them as vice mayor, and became well known for taking tough stands. Back in 2003, for example, she helped Lexington pass Kentucky’s first city ban on indoor smoking — a tough sell in tobacco country — and later led the push to add e-cigarettes to the ban. As mayor, Gorton says she looks forward to tackling Lexington’s “thorniest of problems.” Those include fighting a spike in crime that has come along with a surge in opioid addiction, managing the city’s ongoing growth in a way that preserves farmland, and using new technologies to combat traffic congestion. “As a registered nurse, I am used to triage,” Gorton said during a forum for mayoral candidates in May. “I know how to prioritize.”
Justin Wilson, Alexandria, Va.
At just 39, Wilson has already served three terms on the Alexandria City Council. That makes him the seasoned veteran on a newly elected council that is young, diverse, and relatively inexperienced. To be mayor in Alexandria means to be head of that legislative group, which is why he’s been focusing first on getting to know the new council members, figuring out their strengths and weaknesses, and establishing their roles as a team. One of Wilson’s top priorities will be fixing up old school buildings, sewers, and other aging components of Alexandria’s critical infrastructure. A self-proclaimed wonk, Wilson sends out a monthly community newsletter that includes links to charts and stats and acts as an in-depth explainer for the city’s toughest challenges. “I love the give-and-take with residents on these important issues,” he told the Alexandria Times. “I wear the wonk label proudly because I’m in public service because I enjoy it, and I enjoy seeing the results when we all work together and all row in the same direction.”
Kim Norton, Rochester, Minn.
As a state legislator, Kim Norton led the push for a public-private partnership to turn the area around Rochester’s famous Mayo Clinic into a global destination for healthcare and wellness. Now, as the city’s first new mayor in 16 years, she’ll have the opportunity to shape what the so-called Destination Medical Center becomes. Norton sees the project as a key driver of economic growth in Rochester, but also wants to make sure that growth benefits all residents. The first woman to hold the mayor’s job in Rochester’s weak-mayor system, Norton says her deep knowledge of policy will allow her to push the role beyond its traditional boundaries. An alumnus of the Bush Fellowship to develop leadership skills, the 60-year-old says she wants to take a collaborative approach as mayor. “I am ready to lead,” she told the Rochester Post-Bulletin, “and prepared to help build relationships with the city council, staff and community members to create a more effective, transparent and fair government.”
Harry Sidhu, Anaheim, Calif.
The 61-year-old Sidhu, a businessman who’s served four terms on the city council, was backed by a key business group and opposes raising taxes to pay for the rising costs of city services. As mayor, he’ll need to navigate a new living-wage ordinance voters passed in November, which will push some hospitality businesses in the city to raise wages to $15 an hour. “Anaheim should attract jobs and small businesses,” he told the Orange County Register, “while ensuring that when a business benefits from our city, every Anaheim neighborhood gets the benefits it deserves.”