Coventry and Birmingham are among 12 cities who can hold a referendum on having a directly elected mayor, the government has confirmed.
Supporters of the scheme said they provide a focal point for a city and can make better use of council budgets, driving forward efficiencies.
Stoke-on-Trent was the first authority in England to have one but scrapped the system after six years.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said referendums will be held in May 2012.
Declared in interest
His announcement is part of the government's Localism Bill which includes more power for local people to overrule planning decisions and powers for people to approve or veto "excessive" council tax rises.
Mr Pickles said the referendums will be on the same day as local elections in 2012.
If a city decides it wants a directly elected mayor, elections for them would be held in May 2013 and successful candidates would serve four-year terms.
Former MP Sion Simon has already declared an interest in being Birmingham's mayor but other candidates have yet to confirm their interest.
The other cities to hold referendums are Bradford, Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield.