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Power and Interest Groups in City Politics

December 1, 2006
Jeffrey M. Berry (Skuse Professor of Political Science, Tufts University) Kent E. Portney (Professor of Political Science, Tufts University) et al.

In years past interest group theory was deeply infl uenced by research on groups in cities, but more recent scholarship on interest groups has focused on national politics. To what degree do contemporary urban interest group systems fit the models of national policymaking? In trying to answer this question we draw on a set of interviews with city councilors, administrators, and interest group representatives in eight cities in eastern Massachusetts. Three significant problems are addressed. First, what is the rate of participation by different interest group sectors, and how does this constellation of groups at the local level compare with that in Washington? We found an abundance of citizen groups and neighborhood associations, and a much smaller proportion of business organizations in comparison to Washington. Second, what is the relationship between local groups and urban governments? The data revealed a substantial amount of collaboration, especially between nonprofi ts and the more urban of the cities. The third and final part of the analysis examines development politics in the city of Boston. A clear bias toward facilitating large development project exists, but it is difficult to detect any unified elite dominating city politics. The evidence gathered suggests that the structure of city politics and the needs of bureaucracies necessitate and facilitate a high level of participation by diverse interest group populations.

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