Okay, time for a thought experiment. Let’s say you’re a resident and voter in the largest city in the United States. Let’s say that, like the VAST majority of your fellow city residents, you are a registered member of the Democratic party, and are therefore gearing up to vote in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. And let’s say, just to make things easier, that you’re paying attention to the early primary campaign, and as such, you are aware that the 23rd person to throw their hat into the ring as a primary candidate happens to be the mayor of your large city.
In other words, imagine you’re me, or any of the other gazillion-or-so New Yorkers who woke up this morning to the news that New York City mayor Bill de Blasio had announced his run for president with an appearance on an early-morning talk show and a campaign video. If we’re continuing with the idea that you’re me, we can also safely assume that you, like me, are not especially pleased about this turn of events. You are, instead, exceedingly frustrated with Mayor de Blasio for adding his longshot bid to an already crowded field, when there’s plenty that he could be doing to improve his own city, and really, the majority of voters in his own city think he should sit this one out. With all the talk of impeachment swirling around the news recently, the thought crosses your mind – can the New York City mayor be impeached?
(Yeah, I’m answering my own question here. Also it’s going to include some editorializing, because I’m feeling a bit salty right about now. OH WELL.)
It turns out the answer is a short, sweet, and resounding NO. According to the Charter of the City of New York, the mayor can either be voted out of office (de Blasio is term-limited when his current term ends in 2021, so maybe this run is a desperate bid to stay relevant), can voluntarily step down, or can be removed from office by none other than the governor of New York State. While there’s no procedure whereby the City Council or any other city body can remove the mayor from office, “the mayor may be removed from office by the governor upon charges and after service upon him of a copy of the charges and an opportunity to be heard in his defense. Pending the preparation and disposition of charges, the governor may suspend the mayor for a period not exceeding thirty days.” (Somewhat frustratingly, I cannot find any information on what charges the governor can serve to the mayor that would be worthy of removal from office, but presumably they have to be more specific than “I don’t like you,” in which case New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose dislike of de Blasio is only matched by de Blasio’s dislike for him, might have done so already.) While the city council retains the power to remove its own members from office by a two-thirds vote, the two other city-wide elected officers – the public advocate and the city comptroller – can only be forced out of office by the state governor.
As a proud New Yorker who hasn’t been especially pleased with the governor as of late (and also thinks the city should have a certain amount of sovereignty in these things), I cannot say I’m overly pleased with this answer. So I decided to investigate just how typical this sort of arrangement is.
If New York City is the most populous city in the US, next in line is definitely Los Angeles, CA. Like NYC, LA has a strong-mayor mayor-council government, which, when translated out of technical government-speak, means that the mayor is directly elected by the people (as opposed to being appointed by the city council) and holds powers typically associated with the executive branch of a government, including setting city budgets and overseeing daily city operations. Well, according to the Charter of the City of Los Angeles, the mayor of LA can only be kicked out of office by other elected officials if they are “convicted of an offense involving a violation of official duties, including, without limitation, a violation of the conflict of interest and government ethics provisions of the Charter or City ordinances. However, removal from office for violating conflict of interest or governmental ethics provisions shall be required only if a court determines that the seriousness of the offense and degree of culpability of the officer so warrant.” In a further difference from New York City, Los Angeles voters have the ability to vote to recall and replace their mayor if they are dissatisfied and can file a recall petition containing the signatures of at least 15% of all registered city voters. My absolute favorite part, though, is the bit that states that a city office is considered vacant if the officeholder has been away from the city for more than 60 consecutive days without the consent of the city council… meaning that if the mayor of LA were to, say, leave the city to go galavanting around early voting states for two months and forgot to return home and run his city, the office of mayor would subsequently be considered vacant.
In Philadelphia, the mayor can also be removed from office via recall vote, although according to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, petitioning standards are stricter than they are for the removal of the LA mayor. Meanwhile, the Municipal Code of Chicago, states that “any officer violating any provision [of the chapter laying out rules for elected officials] shall be deemed guilty of misconduct in office and shall be liable to removal from office thereof,” but I couldn’t find any mention of how that person would be removed from office. I am quite sure, however, that it is not by gubernatorial fiat. According to the Code of Ordinances of the City of Houston, in a case of mayoral “misconduct, inability or wilfull neglect in the performance of the duties of his office,” the mayor of Houston can be suspended from office by a two-thirds majority vote of the city council, given a chance to testify at their own public trial, and then impeached and removed from office by a second two-thirds majority vote of the city council.
In other words, New York City is unique amongst the largest strong-mayor mayor-council US cities in how it allows its mayor to be removed from office. And while nothing I’ve said should be taken to mean that I think de Blasio should be removed from office (he really shouldn’t – New York City has much more important things to worry about), it’s somewhat disappointing to learn that, like control of our dearly beloved MTA, this important city power has been ceded to the state government.
Wondering what the job of the mayor actually is? Check out this rundown of what our local elected officials actually do in New York City.