When a citizen pulls a lever in a mayoral election, the choice is more than among names. Candidates should, and generally do, stand for something; voters are giving a new or reelected chief executive a mandate to pursue a set of goals which have been emphasized in a campaign or a current administration. Unanticipated events and issues, often of great importance, inevitably arise; mayors cope with such events based on the broad values they hold. Other important aspects of municipal affairs are influenced, even determined, by people outside local government. Yet mayoral elections are the most meaningful opportunity for linking the desires of local residents and the decisions of local government.
What are the issues which mayoral elections decide, or at least provide policy guidance about? Students of American urban politics and observers of New York City politics have identified four basic issues which tend to divide a city's citizens.
One basic division is between what Sayre and Kaufman called the "service-demanding" and the "money-providing" groups. 1 Whereas they initially used these terms to describe patterns of interest group activity rather than electoral coalitions, this economic division was used to characterize mayoral coalitions by Shefter in his analysis of the successive fiscal crises in New York City's history. 2
The initial formulation of Sayre and Kaufman had a highly redistributive emphasis, suggesting that municipal government was essentially a mechanism through which the poor obtained in-kind transfers from the wealthy. The following passage, intended to describe New York City politics in the decade before 1960, captures the issue well: