Politics in San Francisco

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Essay on Politics

Political Science

Detroit is one of the cities that have been known for its domineering bankruptcy that has been taken place for decades. The research paper considers the causes of the Detroit bankruptcy and the role played by the Grand Bargain initiative in resolving the issue. The paper also considers council-mayor and council-manager forms of city government and control of the business elite over politics in San Francisco.

Causes of Detroit Bankruptcy

There are numerous reasons which can explain why Detroit went bankrupt. The need to pay retirees went out of hand to such an extent that for every ten dollars that were earned by the city government, four dollars were spent on paying the retirees. Additionally, the city government had to pay for the health insurance for the retirees, and service the debt. In fact, it was projected that the figure was going to reach the amount of seven dollars in every ten dollars earned by the year 2020. The cash flows from the Lancing to municipal governments reduced by 31 percent from 2000 to 2010. This diverted about 4 billion dollars from the cash-strapped townships and cities. As such, Detroit found itself in a situation where it was facing dropping revenue and booming expenses (Bomey, 2016).

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There was also bureaucratic mismanagement which led to bankruptcy. This caused the failure by Washington to extend a complicit lending atmosphere on Wall Street and a refusal by the unions to acknowledge this reality. The bureaucratic mismanagement was also evident in the manner in which Detroit was suffering from joblessness, was blight by the rise in violent crimes, and poorly equipped schools among others. In fact, it is still very rare to hear about a family with kids moving to Detroit (Bomey, 2016).

There were also a great recession and extremely high debts which greatly wrecked the budget of the city. This had a negative impact on the revenue base of Detroit throughout the second half of the 20th century, thus undermining the ability of the city to pay for basic services. Finally, the finances of the city were drained even more, with the total value of the private property plummeting from 45.2 billion dollars back in the year 1958, to 9.6 billion dollars in the year 2012.

Some of the mayors who were elected were also responsible for the predicaments of Detroit. For instance, Kwame Kilpatrick, who became a city mayor in 2002, was extremely corrupted and incompetent. This was unveiled by Detroit Free Press in 2008 and is widely known as the Kilpatrick and Beatty text-messaging scandal. Overall, the mentioned city mayor got about 73 million dollars from the criminal enterprise he ran together with Bobby Ferguson (Bomey, 2016).

The Grand Bargain played a very critical role in addressing the mentioned causes. Politicians, unions and the city leaders recalibrated their approach to the pension policies, which had played a big role in leading Detroit to bankruptcy. Political leaders were required to monitor the municipal pensions, to ensure that the city government does not slip into insolvency, hence jeopardizing the livelihoods of people (Bomey, 2016). There were firms which agreed to reduce their bills in solidarity with the pensioners and the bondholders. The empowering compromise that led to the end of bankruptcy in Detroit has brought a lot of hope that the city will be in a better position to move beyond its political past which had made it dysfunctional.

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Preference Between Council-Mayor and Council-Manager Forms of Government

Both council-mayor and council-manager forms of government have their own merits and demerits. However, each of them has certain strengths, and this explains why only one of the systems works better in specific towns and cities. A mayor-council form of government is more likely to put the mayor at the head, hence giving political leadership which is more visible, which is associated with some benefits. The structure makes the executive directly accountable to the voters, hence implementing the decisions of the majority faster and better. The concerns of the citizens can be addressed quickly. The mayor is responsible for the management duties such as budgets, administration, and operations. It is the person who has the veto power. The mayor can articulate a vision, and act on it appropriately. It is easy to understand who is in power, hence giving the city a single person who is capable of dealing with the constituencies and other groups of citizens which steadily increase as the towns or cities become bigger (Levine, 2015).

Conversely, the council-mayor system is risky, as an executive can be subjected to the influence of a vocal or strong minority. The mayor can also face a strong pressure to please the key holding groups or specific people so as to maintain the political status. The moment this happens, there is a danger that the decisions can be made from the political point of view as opposed to what is best for the city community. The leadership is also not very stable, because it is the mayor who is directly accountable to the people, hence compelling him/her to implement everything the majority of citizens want. Additionally, there can be a high level of turnover, because the heads of the departments are required to report to the elected official. This implies that if a new mayor is chosen, new people are likely to be appointed to many positions (Levine, 2015).

In a council-manager type of government, the head is also privileged to make the decisions, and there are fewer risks that political influence will drive those decisions. Additionally, there is an advantage of having a professional manager who is particularly trained in city management or public administration. Such an expert can execute his or her functions well, especially in the cities where growth is rapid. There is also a low turnover in the city government staff, which implies that institutional knowledge is well-retained. This makes leadership more stable. Very few changes tend to occur in city management as opposed to the council-mayor system where roles keep on altering with each election (Levine, 2015).

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However, there is no visible leadership as that which is experienced by the city mayors. There are no people to manage the interest groups and constituencies which increase as the city grows. Such situations normally fall on the council, and it is hard to maintain order and organization. It is also less responsive in the sense that the manager can only take a direction from the council. The desired change can, therefore, occur very slowly.

In a nutshell, the council-mayor type of government is more effective as compared to the council-manager system in the sense that the responsibility of the mayor is bestowed upon him/her by the people themselves (Levine, 2015). This implies that the mayor is directly accountable to the citizens. The visibility of leadership in the council-mayor type of government also makes it more outstanding. As such, I would prefer the council-mayor system as opposed to the council-manager one.

Lack of Control of the Business Elite in San Francisco

Situation in San Francisco is well aligned with the pluralist theory. According to it, the power in the urban area may not necessarily be held by a few selected powerful individuals. To some extent, the power is spread more widely across the community. In San Francisco, there exists an alliance of activist groups which can block the projects that they do not like. The powerful business individuals do not have so much power as asserted by the political elite theory. In any case, the business leaders are obliged to cooperate with the government leaders so that they get the important projects done. The local officials are in a better position to ensure that leverage is properly exerted. Diversity is embraced in San Francisco (Levine, 2015). The theory asserts that the municipal decision-making is relatively open to hear and take into account different voices. The city is pluralist to a great extent and is evidently open to the emergent political voices of minorities representatives such as African Americans, Chinese Americans, neighborhood activists, environmentalists, LGTB activists, new immigrants and Hispanics. There is a platform for all these groups to be effectively heard in San Francisco. Although the power of corporations as well as the pro-growth forces have not taken much precedence in the city, there are cases where various counterculture groups and neighborhood organizations have been able to attain major victories. The presence of such corporate influence disputes the pluralist theory which affirms that the power is distributed throughout the community (Levine, 2015).

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Contrary to the power elite theory, San Francisco is greatly democratic. The influence of the activist groups is negligible. All the people have a say regarding the manner in which things are done. This fact clearly shows that the voices of all the stakeholders can be heard (Levine, 2015). There are no ideal situations where the corporations and the powerful private individuals exert too much control on the city affairs. Inclusivity is the order of the day. As such, the pluralist theory best describes what is going on in the city. This is because of the inclusion of the diverse groups of citizens in expressing their political voices as opposed to allowing powerful businesspersons and corporations dominate. This makes Levine conclude that San Francisco is the city in which business elites do not dominate politics.


In conclusion, the paper unveils various causes of Detroit bankruptcy, including bureaucratic management, the great recession, surging debts and unpaid pensions among others. It also proves that the council-mayor type of government is better than the council-manager system, due to accountability and expectations that are bestowed upon the mayors. The pluralist theory is better placed to explain the situation with the influence of the business elite on politics in San Francisco.

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