Every city in the United States requires the services of local officials. In some cases, the services of a small town or suburb may be overseen by the government of a larger city or by the county government. According to the National Association of Counties, 48 states have operational county governments—a total of over 3,069 counties. (Conn. and R.I. are the only two states without counties.) Counties range in size from the 82 residents in Loving County, Tex., to the more than 9.8 million residents of Los Angeles County in Calif. There are also about 40 governments that are consolidations of city and county governments; New York, Denver, and San Francisco are among them.
There is no direct career path for gaining public office. The way you pursue a local office will be greatly affected by the size and population of the region in which you live. When running for mayor or council of a small town, you may have no competition at all. On the other hand, to become mayor of a large city, you need extensive experience in the city's politics. If you are interested in pursuing a local position, research the backgrounds of your city mayor, county commissioner, and council members to get an idea of how they approached their political careers.
Some officials stumble into government offices after some success with political activism on the grassroots level. Others have had success in other areas, such as agriculture, business, and law enforcement, and use their experience to help improve the community. Many local politicians started their careers by assisting in someone else's campaign or advocating for an issue.
Some successful local and regional officials maintain their positions for many years. Others hold local office for only one or two terms, then return full time to their businesses and other careers. You might also choose to use a local position as a stepping stone to a position of greater power within the region or to a state office. Many mayors of the largest cities run for governor or state legislature and may eventually move into federal office.
Join professional associations such as the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) to access training and networking resources, industry publications, and employment opportunities. Attend the ICMA Annual Conference (https://icma.org/events) and other industry events to network and to interview for jobs.
Read publications such as Public Management (https://icma.org/public-management-pm-magazine) to learn more about the field.
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Participate in internships or part-time jobs that are arranged by your college’s career services office. Additionally, ICMA offers information on internships at its Web site, https://icma.org/find-internships-fellowships.