A directly elected mayor for Birmingham will give the city the same international status as Chicago or Barcelona, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has insisted.
He also suggested that a candidate from “outside the existing political machine” might be the right person to run Birmingham.
Mr Pickles was speaking as the Government confirmed that Birmingham residents will be asked whether they want a mayoral system in a referendum in May 2012.
If they vote “yes”, then direct elections for a city mayor will be held in May 2013.
In the meantime, Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby is to become the city’s acting mayor.
He will have all the powers which existing mayors in other cities such as Middlesbrough already enjoy. For example, they will be able to propose policies without needing to consult senior colleagues in the council cabinet.
Officially, Coun Whitby will be known as a “shadow mayor” because he will be preparing the ground for a fully-elected mayor, if the city chooses to have one.
Mr Pickles admitted this might give Coun Whitby, leader of Birmingham’s Conservative group, an advantage in a mayoral election. However, the same would be true in cities such as Coventry, which will also have a shadow mayor, where the current leader is a Labour councillor.
He said: “Of course it will give them an advantage but I strongly suspect, as we’ve found in those mayors that have been successful, that often they come outside the existing political machine.
“Of course, if someone wanted to put something back in public life this is quite an attractive proposition.
“Certainly from Chicago to Barcelona, this kind of setup is important.
“I think in a way we tend to underestimate the importance of English cities.
“Many of them have a global reach and I think it’s to try to get them on an equal statues.
“Birmingham is as important as Chicago, is as important as Barcelona. Is as important as a number of places around the world.”
He said former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis had found it much easier to work with councils that had mayors as he worked on plans for high speed rail services.
“I’m very attracted by what Lord Adonis said. He said that when he was negotiating on high speed rail it was relatively easy to deal with those places that had a mayor but less easy to deal with those places that had a traditional council structure.”