Americans will vote for some of their top local leaders as major cities across the country hold mayoral elections in 2023.
The majority of the country’s largest cities have mayors who are Democrats or are affiliated with the party, though many of the mayoral races are technically nonpartisan. Only two of the 20 largest cities in the U.S. have mayors who are Republicans, according to Ballotpedia.
Still, while most big-city mayors are Democrats, the races can offer clues about the types of issues resonating with voters and what qualities residents will be looking for in their leaders ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
Here are five key mayoral races on tap for 2023:
Lori Lightfoot (D) made history in 2019 when she was elected as Chicago’s first Black lesbian mayor. Fast forward less than four years, and she now faces a crowded field of eight challengers as she vies for a second bid.
Those other candidates running against Lightfoot to head the country’s third largest city include: Rep. Jesús ‘Chuy’ García (D-Ill.); Alds. Sophia King and Roderick Sawyer; state Rep. Kam Buckner (D); Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson; businessman Willie Wilson; former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas; and activist Ja’Mal Green.
Among some of the issues that have colored Lightfoot’s time in office include the COVID-19 pandemic, where she — like many other elected officials — received criticism regarding how she handled pandemic restrictions; two walkouts by Chicago Public Schools teachers; and concerns over crime.
Though recent data shows major crimes like murder and aggravated battery declining between 2021 and 2022, certain crimes like murder and theft are still at much higher numbers in 2022 than in 2019 when Lightfoot was first elected.
The election is slated for Feb. 28, but if no candidate outright wins at least half the vote, the two top vote-getters will head into an April 4 runoff election.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) is term-limited, and the candidate field is already crowded, with at least nine people so far announcing their intention to run. Given that the city leans Democratic, whoever prevails in the May 16 primary will be considered the heavy favorite in the Nov. 7 general election.
Among those who are running to succeed Kenney include former City Councilmembers Helen Gym, Allan Domb, Cherelle Parker, Derek Green and Maria Quiñones Sánchez; former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart; grocer Jeff Brown; state Rep. Amen Brown; and former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge James DeLeon. All of them are Democrats, but other candidates could jump into the race, including City Councilmember David Oh (R), former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) and City Council Majority Deputy Whip Cindy Bass (D).
One issue that will dominate the race will be public safety and crime as the city grapples with rising violence. Data from the Philadelphia Police Department shows that while the number of homicide victims declined slightly between 2021 and 2022, those figures are still much higher than in 2019, when Kenney was reelected.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) is term-limited, and a number of candidates have entered the field for the open seat, including state Sen. John Whitmire (D), former at-large City Council member and former Senate hopeful Amanda Edwards, former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins (D) and Missouri City, Texas police officer Robin Williams.
Whitmire, the dean of the state Senate, will pose one of the fiercest challenges given that he’s represented portions of Harris County and north Houston in the state’s upper chamber since the 1980s and has a war chest of $11 million. Hollins gained notoriety in 2020 as Harris County’s top elections official when he sought to send mail-in ballot applications to voters and offered 24-hour voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, Edwards is a familiar face given she previously vied for the Democratic Senate nomination in 2020 to face off against Sen. John Cornyn (R), though she later lost to M.J. Hegar. Hegar lost to Cornyn that November.
The mayoral election takes place Nov. 7.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson (D) has his eyes set on another term in office, and he has several things going in his favor: incumbency; a war chest of more than $1.2 million, according to The Dallas Morning News; and key endorsements from the Dallas Police Association, Dallas Fire Fighters Association and several members of Congress.
Local resident Kendal Richardson has also announced a run in the mayoral race, while former Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa announced he would not be throwing his hat in the ring. The filing deadline for candidates is Feb. 17 and the election is May 6.
Hinojosa would have been considered a serious challenger to Johnson had he chosen to run, though The Dallas Morning News notes that mayoral incumbents in Dallas are usually favored to win reelection.
Rising homelessness, an expensive housing market and a rise in violent and property crimes are just some of the issues that will be front and center as Denver voters weigh in on a new mayor to replace the term-limited Michael Hancock.
At least 28 candidates are running in the race, according to the city’s municipal candidate tracker. Some of those names include state Rep. Leslie Herod (D), state Sen. Chris Hansen (D), former state Sen. Mike Johnston (D), former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Chair Kelly Brough and City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega.
The mayoral race is scheduled for April 4, with a runoff date of June 6.