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A mayor (from the Latin māior, meaning "larger", "greater") is the modern title of the highest ranking municipal officer.

In many systems, the mayor is an elected politician who serves as chief executive and/or ceremonial official of many types of municipalities. Worldwide, there is a wide variance in local laws and customs regarding the powers and responsibilities of a mayor, as well as the means by which a mayor is elected or otherwise mandated.



The word derives from Latin maior ("major", "greater") which developed like such terms as senior ("elder") to mean (in) chief.

In spite of its Latin etymology, "mayor" was not a Roman office, as Roman municipia were rather governed by collegial magistrates bearing various titles, such as "Consul" or various terms expressing their number (e.g. duumvir, two), or even titles of pre-Roman local origin.

Among the nations which arose on the ruins of the Roman empire of the West, and which made use of the Latin spoken by their "Roman" subjects as their official and legal language, maior (and, in some contexts, the rarer Low-Latin feminine maiorissa) were found to be very convenient terms to describe important officials of both sexes who had the superintendence of others. Any female servant or slave in the household of a barbarian, whose business it was to oversee other female servants or slaves, would be quite naturally called a maiorissa.

The male officer who governed a king's household (and was often the de facto head of government) was the major domus, and tended to make his office hereditary. At the courts of the various realms (resulting from dynastic divisions and unions) of the Frankish kings of the Merovingian line, the major domus, generally known as the "mayor of the palace", also variously known as the gubernator ('helmsman'; the root of Governor), rector (also a gubernatorial title), moderator (idem) or praefectus palatii, was so powerful that one of their number would evict his master and successfully reunite the realms which his heir Charlemagne would turn into the Holy Roman Empire.

It came into use in the large entourages that followed the barbarian leaders who succeeded to the power of the Emperor of the West. The male officer who governed a king or duke's peripatetic household was the major domus, the "major domo". In the households of the Merovingian Frankish kings, the major domus, or praefectus palatii ("prefect of the palace"), nominally a majordomo comparable to a British household's trusted butler, became the de facto head of government and even tended to become semi-hereditary, gaining such power (compare an oriental Vizier) that, in the person of Pippin of Herstal, he ended by evicting his master. He was the "mayor of the palace".

Municipal Mayoral types and titles

Anglo-Saxon mayors and counterparts

In England the mayor is the modern descendant of the feudal lord's bailiff or reeve (see Borough). The chief magistrate of London bore the title of portreeve for considerably more than a century after the Conquest. This official was elected by popular choice, a privilege secured from King John. By the beginning of the ninth century the title of portreeve gave way to that of mayor as the designation of the chief officer of London. The adoption of the title by other boroughs followed at various intervals.

In England and America a mayor is now the official head of a municipal government. In the nineteenth century, in the United Kingdom, the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, section 15, regulated the election of mayors. He was to be a fit person elected annually on 9 November by the council of the borough from among the aldermen or councillors or persons qualified to be such. His term of office was one year, but he is eligible for re-election. He may appoint a deputy to act during illness or absence, and such deputy must be either an alderman or councillor. A mayor who was absent from the borough for more than two months becomes disqualified and vacates his office. A mayor is ex officio a justice of the peace for the borough during his year of office and the next year. He receives such remuneration as the council thinks reasonable. These provisions have now been repealed.

The office of mayor in most modern English boroughs and towns does not entail any important administrative duties. It is generally regarded as an honour conferred for local distinction, long service on the Council, or for past services. The mayor (who must be a serving elected councillor) is expected to devote much of his time to civic, ceremonial, and representational functions, and to preside over meetings which have for their object the advancement of the public welfare. His or her administrative duties are to act as returning officer at municipal elections, and as chairman of the meetings of the council. However, reforms recently introduced mean that 12 English boroughs now have directly-elected mayors who combine the 'civic' mayor role with that of Leader of the Council and have significantly greater powers than either.

The mayor of a town council is officially known as town mayor (although in popular parlance, the word "town" is often dropped).

Mayors are not appointed to District Councils which have not adopted the title of Borough. Their place is taken by the Chairman of Council, who undertakes exactly the same functions and is, like a Mayor, the civic head of the district concerned.

The mayor in contemporary Italy

In Italy mayors (sindaci, singular sindaco) are directly elected by the citizens of their communes. The term of office is five years. A sindaco cannot normally serve for more than two consecutive terms. Italy has in excess of 8000 communes, some of which are very much larger than others: accordingly their political importance can range from the national to the very local. The apposite legal frameworks can be found in the Italian constitution and the Testo unico delle leggi sull’ordinamento degli enti locali (Italian).

Other counterparts

In Germany and the Low Countries the chief town magistrate is called burgomaster 'Chief of the Bürger viz. burgers/citoyens, i.e. Burgesses, citizens' (see that article G. Bürgermeister, Dutch burgemeester; French-speaking parts of Belgium use bourgmestre).

The equivalent in Italy is sindaco (historical titles include podestà), in Greece δήμαρχος 'demarkhos' (the "archon of the deme"), in France Maire, in Argentina intendente, in Bohemia starosta, in Brazil prefeito 'prefect' and in Spain alcalde, a term derived from a Moorish post's Arabic name.

In Canada municipal titles vary from province, but the highest official of a First Nation community holds the title of Chief. In addition provinces which have rural municipalities in place of counties refer to their elected official as the duly elected Reeve.

In the early 20th century, and for the most still, the English method of selecting a mayor by the council was followed for the corresponding functionaries in France (except Paris), the more important cities of Italy, and in Germany, where, however, the central government must confirm the choice of the council. Direct appointment by the central government exists in Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. As a rule, too, the term of office is longer in other countries than in the United Kingdom. In France election is for six years, in The Netherlands for six, in Belgium for an indefinite period, and in Germany usually for twelve years, but in some cases for life. In Germany the post may be said to be a professional one, the burgomaster being the head of the city magistracy, and requiring, in order to be eligible, a training in administration. German burgomasters were most frequently elected by promotion from another city. In France the maire, and a number of experienced members termed adjoint au maire 'mayoral adjunct', who assist him as an executive committee, are elected directly by the municipal council from among their own number. Most of the administrative work is left in the hands of the maire and his adjuncts, the full council meeting comparatively seldom. The adjuncts receive no salary.

In Finland, there are no mayors, although plans have been floated to institute the office in Tampere. The highest executive official is not democratically elected, but appointed to a public office by the city council, and is called simply kaupunginjohtaja "city manager" or kunnanjohtaja "municipal manager", depending on whether the municipality defines itself as a city. The term pormestari "mayor", from Swedish borgmästare "master of the castle" confusingly refers to the highest official in the registry office, not the city manager. In addition, pormestari is also a title, which may be given for distinguished service in the post of the city manager. The city manager of Helsinki is called ylipormestari, which translates to "Chief Mayor", for historical reasons. Furthermore, the term "city manager" may be seen translated as "mayor".

This is similar to Portugal, where the highest municipal authority is the presidente da Câmara Municipal, the 'president of the Municipal Chamber', appointed to his office by the city council.

United States

In the United States, there are several distinct types of mayors. The first type of mayor is the mayor under the council-manager government. In this form, common among medium sized cities from 25,000 to several hundred thousand, the mayor is a first among equals at the city council, analogous to a head of state for the city. However, the mayor does not have any special legislative powers. This system is suited for rural and suburban cities with a part time mayor and city council. In the second form, under a strong mayor system, the mayor acts as an elected executive with the city council functioning with legislative powers. The mayor may select a chief administrative officer to oversee the different departments. This is the system used in most of the United States' large cities, primarily because mayors serve full time and have a wide range of services that they oversee. In a weak mayor system, the mayor has appointing power for department heads but is subject to checks by the city council. This is common for smaller cities, especially in New England. Charlotte, North Carolina and Minneapolis, Minnesota are two notable large cities with a weak mayor.

Many American mayors are styled "His/Her Honor" while in office.


The mayor is the leader in most Canadian municipalities. However, some Canadian provinces still use the term reeve for the elected head of a small village, a township or a rural municipality, performing a similar role to the mayor of a town or city. The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario is the only municipality in Canada whose elected head holds the traditionally British title of Lord Mayor.

Mayors are styled 'His/Her Worship' while in office. [1]

The chief executives of boroughs (arrondissements) in Quebec are termed mayors.


On Australian councils, the Mayor is generally the member of the Council who acts as ceremonial figurehead at official functions, as well as carrying the authority of Council between meetings. Mayoral decisions made between meetings are subject to Council and may be confirmed or repealed if necessary. Mayors in Australia may be elected either directly through a ballot for the position of Mayor at a local-government election, or alternatively may be elected from within the Council at the first meeting each year.

It should be noted that the title of Mayor is generally only relevant in local government areas (LGAs) regarded as cities or municipalities. In Shire Councils, the title of Shire President is often used, though the title of Mayor is becoming more popular. In the central capital city council of each state, the title of Lord Mayor is used (e.g. Lord Mayor of Melbourne or Lord Mayor of Sydney).

Like Canada, mayors have the title of 'His/Her Worship' whilst holding the position.

In councils where Councillors are elected representing political parties, the Mayor is normally the leader of the party receiving the most seats on council. The leader of the next largest party is often informally known as the Shadow Mayor, though this is not an official title.

Multi-tier local government

In several countries, mayors are often appointed by some branch of the federal or regional government. In some cities, subdivisions such as boroughs may have their own mayors; this is the case, for example, with the arrondissements of Paris, Montreal, and Mexico City. In Belgium, only Brussels, the capital, administratively is one of the federation's three regions, subdivided -without the other regions' provincial level- into 19 rather small municipalities, which each have an elected -formally appointed- Burgomaster (i.e. Mayor, responsible to their elected councils); while Antwerp, the other major metropolitan area, has one large city (where the boroughs, former municipalities merged into it, elect a lower level, albeit with very limited competence) and several smaller surrounding municipalities, each under a normal Burgomaster as in Brussels.

In the People's Republic of China, the Mayor (市長) may be the administrative head of any municipality, be it provincial-, prefectural, or county-level. The Mayor is usually the most recognized official in cities, although the position is the second highest ranking official in charge after the local Communist Party Secretary . In principle, the Mayor (who also serves as the Deputy Communist Party Secretary of the city) is responsible for managing the city administration while the Communist Party Secretary is responsible for general policy and managing the party bureaucracy, but in practice the roles blur frequently causing conflict. In the Republic of China in Taiwan the mayor is the head of a city's government and is completely distinct from the associated city's council which is in charge of legislative affairs. The mayor and city council are elected separately by the city's residents.

Sources and references


  • A. Shaw, Municipal Government in Continental Europe
  • J - A. Fairlie, Municipal Administration
  • S. and B. Webb, English Local Government
  • Redlich and Hirst, Local Government in England
  • A. L. Lowell, The Government of England.

See also

bg:Кмет cs:Starosta da:Borgmester de:Bürgermeister el:Δήμαρχος es:Alcalde eo:Urbestro fr:Maire fy:Boargemaster hr:Gradonačelnik io:Urbestro ilo:Mayor id:Walikota it:Sindaco he:ראש עירייה lt:Meras hu:Polgármester mk:Градоначалник nl:Burgemeester ja:市町村長 no:Borgermester nn:Ordførar oc:primièr cònsol pl:Burmistrz pt:Prefeito ru:Мэр sk:Starosta sl:Župan fi:Pormestari sv:Borgmästare tr:Belediye başkanı uk:Міський голова yi:בירגערמייסטער zh:市长

Original Source

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