New Report Reveals How Mayors Perceive Racism and Discrimination in Cities

September 17, 2018 - (4 min read)

WASHINGTON — September 17, 2018 — A new report, Mayoral Views on Racism and Discrimination, explores how mayors of medium-sized and large cities understand race, discrimination and equity in their communities and on a national level.

Co-authored by the National League of Cities (NLC) and the Boston University Initiative on Cities (IOC) and supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, the report cites three key findings:

  1. Mayors believe that the four groups most discriminated against in their cities and across the country are immigrants, transgender individuals, black people and Muslims. In relation to these group and others, mayors perceive far more discrimination in the country as a whole than in their own communities.
  2. Mayors believe that access to public services is significantly better for white people than for people of color, except for subsidized housing. More than half of all mayors report that white people have better access to jobs, educational opportunities, housing and healthcare, and are treated better by police and the courts.
  3. While mayors see disparities in access to services, they overwhelmingly believe that the quality of services is largely equal across different groups of people, except for educational services, which they think is worse for people of color.

The report also highlights several successful initiatives that cities, including Anaheim, Boston, Louisville and New Orleans, have undertaken in combatting discrimination.

The analyses included in the report are based on the 2017 Menino Survey of Mayors, a nationally representative survey of American mayors, supported by Citi Community Development and The Rockefeller Foundation. During the summer of 2017, 115 mayors from 39 states were interviewed on a wide range of questions related to city leadership. Some of these questions were about racism and discrimination in their cities and on a national level, as well as access to and the quality of services for people of color as compared to white people.

“This report serves as an important benchmark for where we are as a nation,” said Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities (NLC). “While many communities have made significant progress in advancing equity and inclusion, we still have a long way to go to address the issues of racism and discrimination that plague our country as a whole. Thankfully, mayors have the unique ability to confront discrimination through budget and policy decisions, through executive actions and speeches, and, ultimately, by creating the conditions for economic, social and cultural growth for all people.”

“We are in a national conversation about race and mayors are in the forefront,” said Graham Wilson, director of the BU Initiative on Cities. “Our survey shows how mayors see the current situation in their own cities and the challenges that we face.”

“This important research should equip mayors with more tools to address inequality and provide greater access to opportunity in their cities and communities,” said Ryan Whalen, managing director at The Rockefeller Foundation. “Mayors are on the front lines of civic accountability and, as highlighted by this research, they can make a significant contribution to ensuring equal rights through the delivery of city programs and services.”

About the Initiative on Cities
The Boston University Initiative on Cities researches, promotes, and advances the adaptive urban leadership strategies and policies necessary to support cities as dynamic and inclusive centers of growth and positive development in the 21st century. Founded by a proven urban leader, the late Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino, and a highly regarded academic, Professor Graham Wilson, the Initiative serves as a bridge between academic research and the real-life practice of city governance. Additional information may be found at

About The Rockefeller Foundation
For more than 100 years, The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission has been to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Together with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation strives to catalyze and scale transformative innovations, create unlikely partnerships that span sectors, and take risks others cannot–or will not. For more information, please visit


The National League of Cities (NLC) is the voice of America’s cities, towns and villages, representing more than 200 million people across the country. NLC works to strengthen local leadership, influence federal policy and drive innovative solutions. Stay connected with NLC on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.