Psst!  Hey!  Do you by any chance want to run for mayor?  Running for a local office is a great way to get involved with politics and make a difference in your community.  However, putting together a successful political campaign takes a detailed approach.  So if you’re just starting out, you might not have the first clue how to run for mayor.

And that’s okay—this guide will help jump start your knowledge about several aspects of running a political campaign for mayor in your town or city:

  • What to research to prepare 
  • What requirements come with the job
  • How to start a campaign
  • How to run a campaign

You’ll learn everything from what a mayor does to how to get endorsements.  Plus, we’ll link to our other guides so that you can find even more in-depth information about each topic (phonebanking, GOTV, branding, etc.).

Let’s start with the first step in learning how to become a mayor: researching the office you want to fill.

Research the office

To know the office you’re running for, start by brushing up on a few basics. We’ve laid them out for you below:

Your local politics  

Find out the structure, roles, and key figures of your local government.  Many cities will have municipal campaign laws (e.g., campaign contribution limits for municipal offices).  Get to know those as well.

The easiest place to start researching how to run for mayor of your city is with your state and city websites.  Your state will have an election board website, or you can find political campaign resources on the relevant Secretary of State website.  The official city website will also have information about city government and the office of mayor. On all three sites, you’ll find information about many things that will help you start your campaign. Here are a few examples:

  • Requirements to run for mayor: Common eligibility requirements include age limits, residency requirements, the filing of certain paperwork, and the submission of a Petition for Candidacy.
  • Campaign finance information: You’ll gain access to any required forms that must be submitted if you want to run for mayor. Important information about local campaign finance laws and filing requirements and deadlines should also be readily available.
  • Campaign costs: City or state websites will have finance disclosure records you can access to help get an understanding of both the cost of a mayoral campaign and the competition.
  • Current calendars and elected officials: Learn who currently holds local office and start reaching out to elected officials. Many city websites will also have event calendars, allowing you to easily start attending public meetings.  Election calendars help you determine when the next cycle begins and when the next elections take place.

For example, if you lived in Augusta, Maine, and wanted to run for mayor, you’d find the information in the screenshot below if you visited the Augusta city council website.

Augusta City Council website showing information that will help you learn how to run for mayor

The screenshot above shows a description of the local government, a list of upcoming meetings and events, a list of council members, and links to visit for further information. By clicking on the Mayor tab, you’ll also find a description of the responsibilities and roles of the mayor. The details there even show you that the mayor of Augusta is a council-weak mayor (which we’ll talk about a little further below).

For step-by-step information about finding local election information in your state, check out our article titled What Local Offices Can I Run For?

How old do you have to be to run for mayor?

Most cities require you to be at least 18 years old to become a mayor.  However, some cities have age requirements as high as 30 years old.  Check with your local government to determine the applicable age requirements for your town. Other eligibility requirements, such as residency and active voting status, might also apply.

Responsibilities of the office (council-weak vs. council-strong mayors)

Determining what your responsibilities as mayor would be starts with knowing the structure of your government.  For example, does your city have a council-strong mayor?  Below we’ll discuss the general responsibilities and the different roles a mayor could take on.

What does a mayor do?

As mayor, your responsibilities could include a variety of things. Here are a few common responsibilities:

  • Serve on the city council
  • Vote in the city council
  • Appoint members (of the council and the public) to serve on relevant committees
  • Oversee the preparation of annual budgets and annual reporting to the council

The mayoral responsibilities you have will vary depending on the city government and the mayor’s role within the city council.

Council-strong mayor 

Council-strong mayors are the head of the executive branch of the local government, while the council is the legislative power.  The mayor has veto power within the council. In addition, administration personnel are appointed and removed by the mayor.

Council-weak mayor

Council-weak mayors share executive and legislative roles with the council.  The mayor heads the council, but cannot veto legislation approved by the council.  Likewise, the council has a voice in administration appointments and dismissals.

How to Run a Political Campaign

We’ve already covered much of the ins and outs of running a local campaign in our article, titled: How to Run for Local Office. In this section, we’ll instead review some of the basics and give you links to more guides that will help you set up specific aspects of your mayoral campaign.

Setting up your campaign

The next step in learning how to run for mayor is to tackle the myriad details involved in setting up your campaign.  You’ll need staff, branding, fundraising plans, event calendars, a field plan, and more.

One extremely helpful tool to get you started is an open-source library full of foundational documents to use as you organize your campaign and train your staff/volunteers.  You’ll find all sorts of templates, training, data tracking help, and more.

Campaign staff

One of the earliest steps is settling on a few key campaign staff members.  Specifically, you’ll want to find a campaign manager and a finance director/treasurer.  These essential personnel will help you research your budget, organize your fundraising, set up your campaign branding, and do much, much more.

  • Check out our blog about campaign staff to learn more about the staff you’ll need, when you’ll need them, and what specific roles staff and political consultants play in political campaigns.

Filing for candidacy

As we mentioned previously, you’ll have some forms and paperwork to fill out before you even start your campaign.  We have a Quick Administrative Guide to help you navigate that process. Plus, your own research—as well as any research by your campaign manager and/or treasurer—will help you with filing for candidacy as well.

Branding

Messaging and name recognition are also important parts of a successful campaign.  Local elections—like when you’re running for mayor—tend to have lower public interest and turnout. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still make your campaign stand out. You just need on-point branding and messaging. 

Not sure where to start?  We have several guides that can help you learn cost-effective ways to increase voter awareness of your campaign:

Fundraising

If you want to become a mayor, you’ll need to learn how to fundraise.  A successful political campaign hinges on raising enough money to operate. And there are several ways to gain contributions: 

Those are just some of the many ways to fundraise. Want more options? Check out our full guide on fundraising—The Complete Political Fundraising Guide—for more details on organizing calltime, gathering donor data, and expanding your donor network.

Launch day

Once you’ve got staff, branding, and fundraising in place, you’re ready to announce your campaign to the world! A lot of moving parts led up to this moment.  But once everything is in place, you can officially throw your hat in the ring and run for mayor. 

We’ve put together a Campaign Launch Day Checklist to help you track your progress as you get ready to kick-off your campaign.

Running for Mayor

 

Now that you’ve done all this hard work, get ready to really roll up your sleeves.  Running a campaign involves time, energy, and even more legwork.  You not only have to gain voters’ attention but also convince them to vote for you—all while continuously fundraising to pay your staff. 

Let’s break down some of the biggest concerns you’ll likely have at this time (aside from fundraising, which we’ve covered above).

Voter engagement

 

Local elections benefit from more intimate forms of voter engagement.  While running for mayor, you’ll use lawn signs and flyers to gain recognition.  However, it’s canvassing that will be key to raising awareness about local elections and your candidacy.

Need to learn the ins and outs of canvassing?  Read our guide: The 2022 Political Canvassing Guide.

To find out how to best engage voters and Get Out The Vote, read The Complete Guide to Voter Engagement.

Get endorsements

 

Another way to strengthen your campaign’s reputation is to secure endorsements from important members of your political party and community.  Endorsements can come from any public figure: politicians, celebrities, companies, PACs, and many others. 

Remember when we mentioned using your research into local government to start reaching out to people? Well, that leg work can pay off when it’s time for you to lock in some endorsements. Cultivating working relationships with other members of city council, for instance, will help you get your name out there more as you run for mayor.

Read Political Endorsements – The Complete Candidate’s Guide for even more information on gaining endorsements that will raise your name recognition with voters.

And That’s How You Become a Mayor

 

So now you know how to run for mayor.  We know we’ve thrown a lot of information at you, but there are tons of tools out there that can simplify the process.  For instance, Numero CRM can help you manage your fundraising and communicate seamlessly with your calltime volunteers and staff – and do it all in one place. ActBlue allows you to accept donations online. VoteBuilder or PDI can help you manage your voter outreach and volunteer programs. 

Whatever tools you ultimately use, you’re now equipped with the knowledge you need to run for mayor.  Good luck with your campaign!

Image credit: Detroit, Michigan, exaggeration postcard — ‘They Wanted Me to Run for Mayor.’” by In Memoriam: Wystan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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