BLACK mayors were elected in overwhelmingly white cities from
Seattle to Minneapolis this week, while white mayors were elected
in cities where whites are in the minority.
In city after city facing social and economic decline, many
voters clearly want mayors who are tough, effective, and
dollar-efficient. Urban voters are opting for more police on the
streets and harder bargains with public employee unions instead of
In some cities, blacks and whites still hew to racial divisions,
but many voters around the country are clearly willing to cross
lines of race and party to get conservative administrators.
In New York, where whites are 43 percent of the population and
4 of 5 voters are registered Democrats, white Republican Rudolph
Giuliani became mayor Tuesday. At the same time, Hartford, Conn.,
voters elected a white independent, Michael Peters, to replace the
first black woman elected mayor of a major US city.
Those are only the latest indications of a growing trend. Just
a few months ago, Richard Riordan, a white Republican, won the
mayor's office in overwhelmingly Democratic and nonwhite Los
Angeles. A year ago, mostly nonwhite and Democratic Jersey City,
N.J., elected white Republican Bret Schundler mayor. And the year
before, Philadelphians chose conservative white Democrat Ed
The upshot of these elections: The nation's five largest cities,
rich ethnic stews where no one race dominates the electorate, are
now run once again by white mayors - the two largest by
Yet black mayors are gaining ground in cities where whites are
predominant. This week, Seattle's first black mayor, Norm Rice, was
re-elected in a landslide, as was Cleveland's black mayor, Michael
White. Minneapolis elected its first black mayor in Sharon Sayles
Belton. So did Rochester, N.Y., in William Johnson Jr.
Running a city is an increasingly difficult job. The backdrop
for many urban elections this year is an eroding tax base as middle
class residents - black and white - leave for the suburbs and
beyond. Many businesses follow them out of town. But the problem is
not just the money; it is also the social order that middle class
families bring to neighborhoods.
In New York City, residents of all classes and incomes are
seeing violent crime rise, city services decline, and incivility
increase. Although the law requires a balanced city budget, New
York is currently heading toward an $800 million deficit this
fiscal year and $2 billion in each of the next two fiscal years,
says Joseph Viteritti, a management professor at New York
The new mayor will have to make some very tough decisions in the
next few months to pull the city out of its financial nosedive, Dr.
Viteritti says. The fundamental question that New York and many
other older Northern cities have to ask themselves, he says, is
whether they can afford to pursue an agenda of redistributing
wealth to the poor anymore. "I just don't think the resources are
in the city to do this kind of thing anymore," he says.
Another close analyst of city affairs, Cooper Union history
Prof. Fred Siegel, says the question is not New York's
redistributive agenda but whether the city's bureaucracy can make
that or any other agenda work. "As it stands, we have a 19th
century bureaucracy in New York," including pneumatic tubes for
sending messages. "It's the last stronghold of centralized
bureaucracy in the world."
Tough guy for New York City Hall
Voters may have sensed in Mr. …