After It’s Too Late: Estimating the Policy Impacts of Black Mayors in U.S. Cities

55 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2010 Last revised: 10 Oct 2013

Date Written: September 1, 2011


Does a black mayor’s inauguration influence American cities’ policies? The heated rhetoric surrounding some black-white elections suggests that it might. Past research is divided. Yet this question has not been addressed in years or with many observations. This paper uses novel data sets including 167 elections and 108 black mayors to examine their impact on fiscal and employment policies. Empirically, it uses multiple approaches including regression discontinuity design. In most observable policy areas, the inauguration of a black mayor leads to policies that are indistinguishable from cities where black mayors do not govern. Police hiring represents an exception, with black mayors hiring more black officers. These results suggest a disconnect between the racially polarized elections that produce black mayors and the governance that follows. They raise concerns about the potential of city elections to induce accountability, and they reinforce the centrality of criminal justice as an urban political issue.

Suggested Citation

Hopkins, Daniel J. and McCabe, Katherine T., After It’s Too Late: Estimating the Policy Impacts of Black Mayors in U.S. Cities (September 1, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Daniel J. Hopkins (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Stiteler Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States


Katherine T. McCabe

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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