Supporters cheer at the Paul Young campaign election party at Minglewood Hall on Thursday night. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

In Memphis, the mayor sets the tone.

The mayor is the city’s chief spokesperson; from their platform, they make speeches and send emails that can influence how residents — and the nation — think of Memphis and how the city is talked about. The mayor can lobby the legislature to make changes that help the city, like sharing sales tax revenue.

Or not. A mayor’s silence, too, can affect state and federal government funding.

And the mayor’s temperament can influence how much residents can learn about how the city is run. For instance, if the mayor is secretive, don’t expect transparency from those in city operations.

Those are some of the intangible qualities a mayor brings to the job. But, as presented in the city’s charter and its code of ordinances, there are also key practical roles the city’s leader takes on. (It’s important to note, also, that because the mayor is an elected official, the mayor works for you!)  Here is a look at some of the ways this election will impact your life:

THE POWER: The mayor creates the city’s budget 

WHAT THAT MEANS: The mayor steers where money goes in the city. While the city council has to approve the budget, the council members can’t change it; they can only vote it up or down. Memphis has thousands of contracts with vendors — from nonprofits to construction firms to universities and movie production companies — providing a variety of services. (The mayor doesn’t have unilateral power to raise taxes; the city council establishes the property tax rate.)

HOW IT AFFECTS YOU: Where the money goes reflects what the city prioritizes, so it’s important to know where the money is going. The mayor can influence everything from whether there’s more money to subsidize childcare for low-income families to whether it’s possible to get housing quickly in an emergency.

A painting of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits behind the head chair in the conference room at Memphis City Hall. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

THE POWER: The mayor hires the police chief 

WHAT THAT MEANS: This mayor has a direct say — and must take full responsibility — for public safety in the city. A mayor wouldn’t support a police chief if they didn’t approve of their policies and approaches to policing. 

HOW IT AFFECTS YOU: You have to live with and survive under those approaches

THE POWER: The mayor makes appointments to city boards and commissions

WHAT THAT MEANS: There are more than 40 boards and commissions, some more powerful than others, but all seeking to influence everything from civilian law enforcement to public transportation to where trees are planted.  

HOW IT AFFECTS YOU: Many of these boards affect your quality of life, yet you may not know why members were appointed and whether they represent your interests. 

Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at

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