What are the traits of a good local leader? While most studies of local officials focus on the mayors of large cities, 85% of municipalities in the United States have a population of less than 20,000. We conduct in-depth phone interviews with nearly 300 mayors and city managers from predominantly small and mid-sized cities in the United States to learn about their backgrounds. We focus on two standard ability measures (education and prior occupation) and draw from research in public administration and economics to introduce two new dimensions of quality: public service motivation and managerial skill. We paint a comprehensive descriptive portrait of the respondents in our sample and the cities they represent, and we then examine whether these traits matter for the policy goals that local leaders choose to focus on during their time in office. These results offer a promising new approach for researchers studying political leadership and its consequences, both in the local context and beyond.