Combining quantitative and qualitative methods, Grindle examines data based on a random sample of Mexican municipalities--and ventures into town halls to follow public officials as they seek to manage a variety of tasks amid conflicting pressures and new expectations. Decentralization, she discovers, is a double-edged sword. While it allows public leaders to make significant reforms quickly, institutional weaknesses undermine the durability of change, and legacies of the past continue to affect how public problems are addressed. Citizens participate, but they are more successful at extracting resources from government than in holding local officials and agencies accountable for their actions. The benefits of decentralization regularly predicted by economists, political scientists, and management specialists are not inevitable, she argues. Rather, they are strongly influenced by the quality of local leadership and politics.