Governor vs Mayor- Differences Between Them

Governor vs Mayor

American democracy is governed by the republican ideals of its forefathers. Unlike Asian or European parliamentary democracies, Americans do it a little differently. The United States has a powerful chief executive directly elected by the people. This is in addition to the Senate and House of Representatives, both of which have separate elections. This style of democracy with a robust popular leader is called Presidential democracy and permeates into all levels of local government, as well. At the state level and city level, citizens have the opportunity to elect their head of government in a direct election every four years. The topic is- Governor vs Mayor.

Governors and Mayors in federal America

The USA is organized as a federal republic, with each state having its own House of Representatives. The Chief Executive of an American state is a Governor. The Chief Executive of a city is a mayor. Given this federal status of our union, different States have different laws regarding elections, powers, and term limits. The main difference between the two is in their jurisdictions, with the Governor being responsible for the entire state and the Mayor playing the same role in a much-limited capacity.

The Current state of Governors and Mayors

Out of the fifty states, twenty-seven are ruled by Republican Governors and 23 by Democratic ones. 5 Democrats and one Republican occupy the Governorships of US territories like American Samoa and Guam. With the Democratic Party claiming a majority of its support from the cities, most large cities have Democratic Mayors with the smaller cities having Republican Mayors. Forty-One of the fifty state Governors are male, with nine being female, with the oldest being Kay Ivey of Alabama at 76, and the youngest being Ron DeSantis of Florida at 43.

Age and Former Experience

As most politicians enter elected politics after their 30s, both Mayors and Governors are generally in their 40s or 50s while elected to office. As the Mayoralty is the junior position, Mayors may be younger than Governors, but there isn’t any rule except a possible age limit. But given their jurisdiction over the entire state, becoming a Governor is no easy feat. Most Governors have some experience as a State Senator, State Representative, or serve in the State Cabinet, while Mayors may be former Councilmen or board members. Gubernatorial candidates need to have broad support from the citizens of the state to win. This involves winning over all types of voters, liberals, conservatives, independents. This might be difficult as the problems of a state may be vast and varied from county to county. It is easier to become a Mayor as the scope of the problems in a city and its demographics may not be varied as that of the state.


Governors have greater responsibility by virtue of their jurisdiction over the entire state. Governors serve as the executive head of the state legislature and approve of state budgets. They enact legislature, direct policy, and even have the veto power over any bills passed by the legislature. An added power of a Governor is the ability to appoint vacant seats in the Senate, as was exercised by Gavin Newsom in California when Kamala Harris was elected to serve as Vice-President. 

Cities, on the other hand, may have one of the two types of Mayors, strong and weak, based on the Mayor’s authority over the city council. The chief responsibilities of a Mayor include serving on and voting in the city council, preparing the city budget, and appointing citizens and council members to posts on commissions or committees.

Term Limits

Because of the federal nature of our democracy, states are free to make their own laws about the term limits of both Mayors and Governors. Most Governors are eligible to serve for 2 consecutive terms while becoming eligible again after four years. Such is the case in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and others. 

States like California, Nevada, and Michigan have an absolute term limit of 2 terms consecutively or otherwise. States in the Midwest like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, as well as Texas, place no caps on a Governor’s term. The special cases include New Hampshire and Vermont, which have no caps on two-year terms, and Virginia which places a limit of one term after which one might become eligible after 4 years. The same lack of consistency holds even for the Mayoralty of cities with the most imposing term limits of two or three terms.

Political Influence

Both Mayors and Governors have gone on to serve at higher offices. The Mayoralty is usually seen as a stepping stone to a Senate or Cabinet seat or even the Governorship, while Governors have also gone on to become Senators. Senator Dianne Feinstein previously served as the Mayor of San Francisco. Current Transport Secretary, and former Presidential hopeful, Pete Buttigieg previously served as the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. The national spotlight that Governors of important states receive, however, also makes them potential Presidential candidates, something that Mayors are seldomly considered for. A testament to this is the fact that nineteen Governors have gone on to win the White House. Famous among them were Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Ronald Reagan of California. Nevertheless, the Mayors of important cities may also have a significant degree of influence and may also hog the limelight at times. Such was the case with former New York City Mayors like Mike Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani. 

Party Affiliation

While it is difficult to imagine anyone other than a Democrat and Republican winning the Governorship in the modern American political landscape, there have actually been forty odd third-party Governors in Post-Reconstruction US history. Although most of them were breakaway groups like the Farmer-Labor Party or the Progressive Party and have since merged into one of the two major parties, the most recent was Alaska Governor Bill Walker, who served one term from 2014 to 2018. While there are no sitting Independent Governors, Independent Mayors are much more common, especially in the smaller cities. Current Senator Bernie Sanders served as the independent Mayor of Burlington before running for the US House of Representatives. Independents have a greater likelihood of being elected Mayor than they have of being elected Governor. This is in part due to their close local association with the citizens of the city and in part due to popularity. Independent Mayors may have the desirable effect of lessening partisan squabbling by trying to find common ground between parties.

Second in Command

Here too, the laws may differ from state to state and situation to situation. Accordingly, both Mayors and Governors may run alongside a running-mate or not. In about seventeen states, the Lieutenant Governors are elected in separate elections, which may lead to them having different political affiliations from the Governor. While Lieutenant Governors are generally elected, it is not uncommon for a Deputy Mayor to be appointed. Both Deputy Mayors and Lieutenant Governors have a variety of responsibilities and roles, but their primary one is to fill in for their boss if unavailable, impeached, or even in the case of death or injury. Deputy Mayors and Lieutenant Governors may preside over the City Council and the State Senate, respectively. Just like the Vice President of the Union, they may cast a tie-breaker vote.


One of the advantages of the democratic system is that the leaders in power may be removed from power by popular mandate. One of the most undesirable situations for an elected official is an impeachment trial. These are initiated in the most severe cases. In most cases, however, officials usually resign rather than directly face the ire of the people and their own party, as was the case with former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Almost all State Legislatures have the power to impeach a sitting Governor. Impeaching local officials such as mayors is also not unheard of with the powers of impeachment resting with the City Council. A more direct form of expressing disapproval towards an elected representative is by recalling him or her. Recalled officials are not allowed to complete their term and may not take part in the special election. Most states allow their city mayors to be Recalled, however few attempts at Recalling elected representatives, both Mayors and Governors have been successful. The current attempt to Recall Governor Gavin Newsom of California was unsuccessful by a margin of almost 4 to 1.

The essence of our federal democracy

While both Governors and Mayors may have different jurisdictions, they both constitute a fundamental aspect of our democracy- federalism. Federalism was etched onto our very constitution and agreed upon by the original thirteen colonies. Our forefathers have bestowed upon us the ability to self-govern at a local level. This ensures that the problems of the everyday joe are resolved locally. This also allows people to make laws favorable to their citizens and develop their communities accordingly. While this might have its drawbacks, no system is perfect, and it is the citizens who are to be blamed for its shortcomings. Similarly, all citizens must strive to perfect our federal system and speak out against our elected representative, Governor, or Mayor, whenever and wherever they falter. They are the true essence of our democracy, and it is the people we choose for these responsibilities who will shape our future. 

Governor vs Mayor- Differences Between Them

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