In contrast to political and social science writing geographers have been ambivalent about the efficacy of studying mayors in order to advance urban theory. Geographers' engaged in studying urban governance have generally disavowed the relevance of theoretical and empirical engagement with specific actors and institutions in their consideration of space, scale and state strategy. Here I show that current theoretical developments nonetheless signpost the possibilities of a shift from an ambivalent view of mayor as 'actor', to a situation where consideration of mayor as 'avatar' offers useful ways of contributing to understanding of the abstract and complex spatialities of territorial and relational urban worlds. © 2011 The Author. Geography Compass © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.