Analysts point to a range of possible explanations. An influx of young, white voters to cities and movement of African-Americans to the suburbs changed the electorate in some places. In others, a sense that a city was struggling led black voters to consider a broader set of candidates. And across the country, the excitement and political empowerment that came from electing a black mayor may simply have waned.
In Detroit, an overwhelmingly black city, local experts say a desire for a new direction was at work in 2013 when the city elected a white mayor for the first time in 40 years.
For decades, the city’s debt mounted while the population shrank to less than half of what it was at its peak. City pensions drained the treasury, and services suffered. In 2013, when the city formally declared bankruptcy, almost half the streetlights didn’t work.
Those dire conditions helped elect Mike Duggan, a white health-care executive. He cruised to re-election this fall.
“Detroit had gotten to an all-time low,” said Ken Coleman, a writer and city historian, who is African-American. “Considering all that, I’m just not sure that African-Americans thought it was a necessity to have a black mayor.”
Now, Mr. Coleman said, his middle-class, African-American neighborhood has seen new streetlights installed, though he credits earlier black mayors for laying the groundwork for that improvement. Meantime, Mr. Duggan’s term has coincided with a revitalization of the city’s downtown and midtown urban core, driven by younger white people.
The city’s overall population continues to decline, but its white, non-Hispanic population is growing. And in five ZIP Codes in the city’s urban core that have seen the most economic revitalization, the white population has grown by 50%.