This article discusses changes to political clientelism and forms of urban government in Naples and in Marseilles in the period from the 1960s to the 2000s. From a socio‐historical, comparative perspective I show that, even in two Southern European cities, the expansion of political clientelism does not depend principally on cultural factors, but rather on politico‐institutional processes. The generalization of clientelistic relationships and the increase in policies for redistributing resources on the basis of clientelistic criteria go hand in hand with two historical trends that were evident in the 1960s and 1970s. Those decades were a period both of demographic development and of welfare state expansion at both central and local levels, the latter leading to the distribution of public resources to growing masses of individuals and social groups. In this phase, clientelistic redistribution policies promoted the integration and the upward social mobility of sections of the middle classes and some strata of the working classes in the local and national political system. From the late 1970s and early 1980s onwards, however, these policies were less and less able to promote this upward mobility and social integration. The article ends with a favourable account of some of the new urban management policies conducted by new political leaderships.