Your Voice at City Hall

By Peggy Heilig & Robert J. Mundt

Series: SUNY series in Urban Public Policy
Paperback : 9780873958202, 171 pages, June 1985
Hardcover : 9780873958219, 171 pages, June 1985

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

1. Urban Reform and Its Contemporary Consequences
The Origins of At-Large Representation
The Legacy of At-Large Representation
Local Representation and Civil Rights
The Movement to Districts
The Impact of District Representation

2. Will Districts Make A Difference?
The Politics of District Elections
The Process of Representation
Council Proceedings: Setting Agendas and Making Decisions
Policy Outcomes
Testing the Hypotheses: Selection of Cities for Comparative Case Studies

3. Efforts to Adopt Districts
Southern City Survey
Eleven-City Survey
The Legal Basis for Federal Intervention
San Antonio
Mobile, The Bolden Case and the Extension of the Voting Rights Act
Districts by Local Decision
Under the Shadow of Federal Intervention
Fort Worth
Blurring the Racial Issue: Downtown/Neighborhood
Ahead of Their Time: Earlier Cases of Change
Des Moines

4. The Politics of District Elections
The Recruitment and Election of Council Members
Race and Districts
Status and Districts
Campaign Spending and Incumbency in Council Elections
Voter Turnout in District Elections

5. Representing the Constituency
Representing Urban Constituencies: Trustees, Delegates and Ombudsmen
Constituent Response to Districts: The Discovery of the Ombudsman
Interaction with City Administrators
Response to Civilian Complaints
Reactions of Administrators to Citizen-Initiated Council Intervention
Council Perception of the Manager's Role
Council and Constituency

6. Actions of District Councils: Agenda-Setting and Decision-Making
Data on Council Proceedings
Interaction Analysis of Council Proceedings
Levels of Council Conflict
Overall Conflict
Conflict Over Questions of Social Assistance
Conflict Over Public Safety
Conflict Over Zoning and Planning
Conflict Over Matters of Structure and PRocess
Districts and Levels of Conflict
Council Coalitions
Richmond: Voting by Racial Bloc
Des Moines: Two Sides of Town
Montgomery: Mayoral Clout
Fort Worth: Factions, Texas Style
Charlotte and Raleigh: "Modernization" and Opposition to Development
Districts and Coalition Formation
Content of Council Agendas

7. Policy Consequences of the Change to Districts
Advocate Preferences and Perceptions of Change
General Impressions: The Achievement of Equity
Council Appointments
Specific Expectations from District Representation

8. Structure and Representation
Where Districts Made a Difference
. ..And Where They Did Not
The Advantage of Districts: Equity and Ombudsmen
Districts and Distribution: Perceptions Matter
The Future of District Representation
Reflections on Structural Change

Appendix A: Interview Schedules


Your Voice at City Hall answers a major question of urban politics and government: "What difference does it make if city councils are elected at-large or by geographically defined districts or wards?"

During the past fifteen years, numerous American cities, particularly those in the South and Southwest, have witnessed efforts to replace at-large councils with district systems. Prior studies have reported that geographically concentrated minority groups are more likely to win council seats under districts. Heilig and Mundt demonstrate conclusively the minority advantage under districts, and they go beyond the questions addressed in existing research to see what actually happened in ten cities that adopted districts.

Through two years of intensive investigation they have determined the effects of districts on local politics, council-constituency interactions, the procedures of council decision-making, and outcomes of those decisions. The result is an important theoretical and empirical contribution to our understanding of urban politics and of representation in general.

Peggy Heilig teaches at the University of Illinois, and has published articles and given numerous papers on effective representation in local government. Robert J. Mundt is Chairman of the Political Science Department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is coeditor of Crisis, Choice and Change: Historical Cases in Political Development, and articles on community politics and African affairs.