THE ills that beset U.S. cities have caused some able mayors to give up: they have announced that they would retire voluntarily as their terms expire this year. Yet in this fall's mayoralty elections, there is no shortage of bold — some would say foolhardy — politicians eager to succeed them, while elsewhere embattled incumbents campaign desperately to retain their posts.

The joy of winning is apt to be short lived. "Everywhere the cities are tottering," reports TIME Senior Correspondent John Steele. "They face near-bankruptcy, decay, population loss, lower property values and ever-increasing...

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