Covid Burnout Causing Mayoral Turnover

A large number of local leaders are leaving office ahead of schedule; many report Covid burnout as the cause of their departure.

April 15, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


City Hall

trekandshoot / Shutterstock

"It has been an exhausting season for America’s mayors," writes Ellen Barry. The story is exemplified by the experience of Donna Holaday, four-term mayor of Newburyport, Masachusetts, who recently announced that she would not be pursuing a fifth term as originally planned. The previous business of the job—the events, problem solving, and other challenging but ultimately rewarding day-today activities—has given way to empty calendars and a never ending stream of unsolvable grief.

“It was so traumatic, with people calling us crying, distressed,” said Ms. Holaday, who has announced she will not run for a fifth term. “I was sitting in my corner office feeling quite alone, there is no question about it.”

Holaday is far from alone in making the choice to leave office, according to the article by Barry. The most recent edition of an annual survey of mayors conducted by Boston University’s Initiative on Cities reveals the foul mood of the nation's local leaders.

"Mayors surveyed last summer expressed deep anxiety about the effects of lost tax revenue on their budgets, as they juggled the pandemic, economic recovery and their core responsibilities," writes Barry.

There's a lack of direct evidence to support the assumption that the trauma and grief of the pandemic has led to a higher-than-normal turnover among the nation's mayors, Barry admits. Still, there are plenty of examples of mayor leaving office to choose from. "In Massachusetts, nearly a fifth of the state’s mayors have announced they will not run again, as CommonWealth, a politics journal, reported, but that is not an unusual portion, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association," writes Barry.

Some mayors have offered explanations for leaving office, providing a steady stream of anecdotes and soundbites to further explain the experience of public service in a most difficult year.

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