Most "autocratic" city government in US?

This might be GD territory, but since people are ranking just about everything these days, I’d wondered if there was any consensus on which city governments and officials today are the most autocratic. By which I mean city officials most notorious for top-down control, rule by edict, vindictive against critics and general disdain if not open contempt for the public. Often backed by a police force set up to be City Hall’s thugs.

As a standard of comparison, I offer Frank Hague, mayor of Jersey City from 1917 to 1947. In addition to heading a corrupt political machine that made him rich, Hague once publicly boasted “I Am The Law”, denounced defenders of free speech and constitutional rights as Communists, and advocated sending such troublemakers to concentration camps in Alaska.

Perhaps currently Benton Harbor Michigan (or one of the other cities in Michigan) where the state legislature appointed one person to run certain cities what were in financial difficulties. I don’t know what kind of individual rights might have been abrogated, but there certainly were complaints about not having local representation for city government.

Kiryas Joel, NY might fit the bill. It’s a small incorporated area that covers a neighborhood where about 99% of the residents belong to a single Hasidic Jewish sect and it is, uhh, expected that you will vote for whomever the Rabbi endorses. From the anecdotes I’ve heard, if you go there as a tourist and don’t belong to their faith you are likely to be “profiled” and harassed until you either give up and leave town or they find a pretense to arrest you on.

I am not sure about today but I can give you some candidates from the very recent past. I am basing my criteria as the mayor having more practical power than the governor of the state even though the latter is technically and legally superior.

  1. Richard Daley of Chicago has to come in at #1. He held extreme power over the city. Daley unilaterally ordered the Meigs field airport destroyed one night on a whim after 9/11 even though there were planes there and no good way to get them out again for example just because he could even though he shouldn’t have been able to order such a thing.

  2. Buddy Cianci - former mayor of Providence, RI - He held total control over the city as well as celebrity status during his two tenures (that were interrupted by felony convictions). He epitomized Mafia control and corruption of the only big city in the tiny state so he essentially ran the whole show until he got sent away long enough to break the streak. He still has tons of fans in Rhode Island and is well known for high-profile publicity stunts like dropping in on public gatherings from a helicopter.

  3. Ruddi Giuliani - High profile mayor of New York City especially during the 9/11 attacks. He also ran for President. Most people couldn’t tell you who the governor of New York state is but almost everyone knew him.

I agree with Shagnasty on Richard M. Daley but his father, Richard J. Daley ruled with complete authority. When he died in 1976 just about every obituary written about him included the words, “the last big city machine boss”. Not only was he mayor of Chicago, he was also the chairman of the Cook County Democratic party, giving Daley unprecedented political power state wide. I don’t have the numbers but in 1960 Cook county had a large percentage of the population of the state. This was when the “collar counties” of Chicago were populate mostly by chickens and cows. In the presidential election of that year Daley delivered Illinois which had had 27 electoral votes. Kennedy won the election by ~ 110,000 votes nation wide. Many mayors were able to deliver a city, Daley is the only mayor I know of who could deliver a state. That’s unprecedented power at the local level.