Being the mayor of a big city comes with its perks, a virtual key to the city and a hefty paycheck among them. Well, at least a virtual key to the city.
Compared to many of his peers in bigger cities, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler's $143,666 annual salary may not seem like much. But the mayor of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Allen Jones, is only making $8,400.
A Business Journals' analysis of mayor salaries throughout the United States found wide discrepancies in what a city's CEO can earn on the taxpayers' dime. It may surprise, but a mayor's annual pay often has little to do with the size of the metropolis they manage.
Take San Francisco Mayor London Breed, whose $301,000 base salary is the highest in the nation among mayors. It’s also $119,000 more than what Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Andrew Ginther earns each year, even though San Francisco has just 5,000 more residents than its Midwestern peer.
As of last year there were 12 U.S. cities with more residents than San Francisco, although none of those mayors earns anything close to Breed's annual salary.
For example, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the second-highest paid mayor in the country, presides over a municipality with a population nine times as large as San Francisco's, yet de Blasio’s $258,750 salary is 15 percent lower than Breed's take-home pay. Likewise, Breed earns roughly 50 percent more than Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel ($216,000) and twice the amount paid to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez ($149,999).
But Breed is far from the highest-paid city employee in San Francisco. That honor goes to William Coaker Jr., chief investment officer for San Francisco Employees' Retirement System. In 2017, Coaker was paid $527,343.14, which according to SFGate.com was the highest salary of any city employee. In addition to Coaker, eight other San Francisco employees earn more than the mayor.
Part of the reason the pay is so high for San Francisco employees is that the city’s booming economy has driven property prices – and property taxes – through the roof. Breed noted the city’s high real estate prices in her inauguration speech in July, when she said she has never been able to afford her own home.
Looking beyond San Francisco, there is a wide disparity among salaries paid to mayors. In the 43 cities where The Business Journals has a presence, mayors earn anywhere from nearly $300,000 in the largest cities to just $8,400 in Winston-Salem, where Mayor Allen Joines' job is a part-time gig.
The Portland Business Journal is a KGW News partner.