Black Mayors, White Majorities: The Balancing Act of Racial Politics

By Ravi K. Perry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
A Way Out of No Way
Reconsidering the Hollow Prize Thesis

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed;
we are perplexed, but not in despair
.

2 Corinthians 4:8

Black mayors were a new American phenomenon in the late 1960s. By the 1970s and 1980s political scientists began examining the impact of black mayors. Did black mayors live up to the black community’s expectations? Were black mayors successful in delivering on their campaign promises? H. Paul Friesema was one of the early commentators to caution about the high level of black expectations, warning that black mayors were inheriting what he labeled a “hollow prize.”1 Friesema argued that African Americans were gaining control of cities that businesses and white middle-class residents were leaving, depleting the cities’ tax bases and providing inadequate resources to address the social and economic needs of the black community.

One of the earliest empirical studies to test the hollow prize thesis was conducted by Edmond Keller.2 Keller examined whether there was a discernible difference in the policy preferences and positions on municipal expenditures between white and black mayors in six cities. He found that African American mayors were more likely to support social welfare policies than white mayors. According to Keller, “Black mayors, because of the constituencies they serve, would like to make welfare-type policies their central concern; but they are often constrained from doing this by structural and human factors.”3

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