Mayors obtain office through direct elections. A direct election, as opposed to the electoral system utilized for presidential elections, is one in which the candidate with the majority of votes wins.
Although the role of mayor is generally viewed as the highest office within a city or town, the amount of power a mayor actually has is dependent upon the type of government structure used in a particular municipality. The oldest system of city-level government is that of the mayor and city council. In this system, members of a council are elected alongside the mayor. This type of local government is somewhat modeled upon the larger federal-level relationship between the president and congress. The mayor presides over the executive actions of the city, while the council resides over legislation.
The amount of executive power that mayors have, however, varies from city to city. In some city government structures, mayors have the power to appoint certain local government officials. In others, the powers of the city council extend beyond those of the mayor, and he does not have such authority. Town meetings or town halls in which citizens can participate in the decision-making process are also key to the function of some city-level governments.