This article explores how bargaining advantages arising from the process of public‐private coordination of interests enable local government to contain business influence in urban development. A theoretical framework highlights how the scope of business demands and the impact of policy on political coalitions empower local officials as Brokers, Organizers, Entrepreneurs and Promoters. Each role affords different pathways for state power in competition with business. This is illustrated by surveying transportation politics during the industrial age in New York City. The city’s experience demonstrates alternative local public‐sector foundations for governmental power in growth politics. As such, it qualifies theories of business privilege in democratic politics and identifies how the dynamics of the public sector empower local officials.