Term Lengths

According to a 2006 survey of municipal governments by International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the most common mayoral term length is four years.  The table below indicates the percentage of cities that apply different term lengths for the position of mayor.

Length Of Term Percentage Reporting
1 year 14%
2 years 35%
3 years   6%
4 years 45%
Other   1%
Term Limits

Although voters nationwide imposed new term limits for state legislatures in the 1990s, only 9 percent of the cities surveyed limit the mayor’s term. Of the cities that impose limits, most (55 percent) limit the mayor to two terms, 30 percent set the maximum to three terms, and 9 percent allow four terms. Larger cities are most likely to impose term limits. Where term limits are imposed, 54 percent impose a two-term limit, and 28 percent impose a three-term limit. Some cities do not limit the number of total terms that may be served, but rather place a limit on successive terms. These limits can vary within a state – two-thirds of these cities mandate limits by city charters or ordinances – or can be set by state law.

Pros and Cons of Term Limits

Term limits may reduce potential abuses of power by incumbents who stay too long in office. Limits may also encourage political participation by newcomers.

Conversely, the election process itself already serves as the antidote for long-serving mayors who are no longer responsive to citizens. Term limits may also be seen as an infringement on the democratic process, as citizens are restricted from selecting a candidate they may see as the most qualified for the position.


Moulder, Evelina. “Municipal Form of Government: Trends in Structure, Responsibility, and Composition.” In The Municipal Year Book, 2008. Washington, DC: International City/County Management Association, 2008.