In 2003, the authorities of Russia launched a comprehensive reform of local government. One of the elements of this reform was the replacement of the previously predominant form of local government, characterised by the presence of directly elected mayors, with the council-manager model. While originally motivated largely by the desire to enhance the efficacy of local government, the reform was implemented concurrently with Russia’s transition to electoral authoritarianism, with the council-manager model emerging as a major tool of authoritarian transformation. This study uses the data from 79 capitals of Russia’s regions in order to identify those factors that facilitated the survival of directly elected mayors in these cities. The analysis reveals that the past trajectories of regime transitions at the regional level in the form of elite settlement, economic resourcefulness, and the lack of politically motivated deference to the federal authorities contributed to the survival of local democracy in Russia.