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Political Monopolies in American Cities

The Rise and Fall of Bosses and Reformers

Around the same time that Richard J. Daley governed Chicago, greasing the wheels of his notorious political machine during a tenure that lasted from 1955 to his death in 1976, Anthony “Dutch” Hamann’s “reform” government centralized authority to similar effect in San Jose. In light of their equally exclusive governing arrangements—a similarity that seems to defy their reputations—Jessica Trounstine asks whether so-called bosses and reformers are more alike than we might have realized.

Situating her in-depth studies of Chicago and San Jose in the broad context of data drawn from more than 240 cities over the course of a century, she finds that the answer—a resounding yes—illuminates the nature of political power. Both political machines and reform governments, she reveals, bias the system in favor of incumbents, effectively establishing monopolies that free governing coalitions from dependence on the support of their broader communities. Ironically, Trounstine goes on to show, the resulting loss of democratic responsiveness eventually mobilizes residents to vote monopolistic regimes out of office. Envisioning an alternative future for American cities, Trounstine concludes by suggesting solutions designed to free urban politics from this damaging cycle.

296 pages | 10 line drawings, 30 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Urban Politics

Sociology: Urban and Rural Sociology


“Ambitious, creative, and convincing, this book combines an impressive sweep of historical data with two fine case studies, significantly contributing to our understanding of how political power is forged in cities. Comparing political tactics in Chicago and San Jose—a machine city and a reform city—to discover underlying similarities in the apparently different means of attaining electoral dominance is counterintuitive yet compelling.”

John Mollenkopf, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

In this provocative and theoretically innovative book, Jessica Trounstine challenges a century of scholarship on urban politics. By highlighting the role of political monopolies in city politics, Trounstine shows that urban machines and reform regimes are not polar opposites. Instead, governing coalitions in each type of city have periodically been able to eliminate competition and entrench themselves in power for decades. Trounstine marshals a wealth of qualitative and quantitative evidence to illuminate how such monopolies form and how they diminish democratic responsiveness.”

Margaret Weir, University of California, Berkeley

"This sophisticated, pathbreaking work makes a major scholarly contribution to the interpretation of urban governance."


"A significant contribution not just to clarifying the legacy of urban reformism, but to an emerging literature on institutional analysis of urban governance."

Michael Craw | Political Science Quarterly

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations        



1.         The Logic of Political Monopolies        

2.         Foundations of Political Monopolies     

3.         Coordinating Monopolies         

4.         Establishing Political Monopolies          

5.         Effects of Political Monopolies 

6.         Monopoly Collapse     

7.         The Rise and Fall of Bosses and Reformers      






Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

APSA Urban and Local Politics Section: Dennis Judd Best Book Award

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