James W. Rutherford

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James W. Rutherford
86th Mayor of the City of Flint
In office
Preceded byPaul Calvin Visser, City Commission Mayor
Succeeded byJames A. Sharp, Jr.[1]
90th Mayor of the City of Flint
In office
August 6, 2002 – 2003
Preceded byDarnell Earley, Temporary
Succeeded byDon Williamson
Flint Downtown Development Authority Director
In office
Succeeded byLarry Ford, interim
Deputy City Manager, City of Flint
In office
Personal details
BornApril 23, 1925
Flint, Michigan[2]
DiedJanuary 14, 2010(2010-01-14) (aged 84)
Flint, Michigan[3]
NationalityUnited States
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Dorothy Petyak
Betty Merrill (divorced)
RelationsHarry and Isabelle, parents;[2] Genevieve Young, fiancée
ChildrenMichael, Jimmy, Marcia and Michele[4]
Alma materFlint Central High School[2]
Flint Junior College
Michigan State University[2]
ProfessionLaw enforcement

James W. Rutherford (April 23, 1925 – January 14, 2010) was a mayor of the City of Flint, Michigan serving as the first "strong" mayor elected under Flint's 1974 charter.[5] Rutherford served for two terms.[6] Rutherford was elected as a caretaker mayor after the recall of Mayor Stanley was recalled and an Emergency Financial Manager, Ed Kurtz, was appointed by the state.


Early life[edit]

James W. Rutherford was born on April 23, 1925 to Harry and Isabelle. Harry was a Buick worker. His family lived on the east side of the city and he eventually attended Flint Central High School. From 1945 to 1947, he served in the U.S. Navy. He marries Dorothy Petyak in 1947. With Dorothy, they have four children, 2 of each.[2]

Police work[edit]

The next year, Rutherford joins the Flint City Police Department.

In 1953, he is promoted to detective. He is lead detective on a Flint horse racing bookie operation from 1954 to 1955 which leads to 14 convictions or guilty pleads. Rutherford attends Flint Junior College graduating in 1958 with an associate degree with honors. He then attends Michigan State University (MSU) attaining a bachelor's degree in police administration with honors in 1960. Later continuing at MSU, he earns a master's degree. Also in 1960, he arrests on gambling charges suspected Mafia leaders. In 1961, he assists Flint Junior College in developing the state's first police administration program. From 1963 to 1965, Rutherford serves as deputy city manager rejoining the police department afterwards and promoted to police inspector. In 1966, he was considered one of 10 outstanding police officers in the country. Rutherford is promoted to Police chief in 1967 and operates a mobile city office in 1969. His wife, Dorothy, dies in 1974. Rutherford resign as Police Chief to run for Mayor in 1975.[2]


Rutherford was elected mayor of the City of Flint, Michigan in 1975 as the first "strong" mayor elected under Flint's 1974 charter,[2][5] defeating former city commission Mayor Floyd J. McCree.[2][6] That same year, James married his second wife, Betty Merrill. In 1977, Rutherford donated $22,000 to the city for an ambulance which would serve until 2010.[2]

Running for reelection in 1979, he defeated McCree again, 20,738 to 12,902. Facing a budget shortage, Rutherford laid off 300 employees. That same year, he announced, with the backing of the Mott Foundation, the purchase of the IMA Auditorium and its annex for $2.4 million for future development into AutoWorld with a projected cost of $38.5 million. AutoWorld encouraged other downtown development such as the Hyatt Regency Hotel, which opens in 1981; Water Street Pavilion; and Windmill Place. General Motors announced in 1982 a redevelopment plan for Buick City that included helping the city with infrastructure.[2]

Attempting to win a third term as mayor in 1983, Rutherford instead lost to James A. Sharp, Jr. by 21,718 to 20,467. He took severance pay of $24,000, as well as some of his appointees, which triggered a lawsuit. With his top aides, he formed the Rutherford Group, Inc. which went on to run Mrs D's Sandwich Shop and a coffee service both for delivery to Total gas stations, Sunshine convenience and Action Auto stores throughout southeast Michigan, the three Harpos pizzeria locations, and a downtown Coney Island cart.[2]

After attending a Toughman Contest in 1984 at the IMA Sports Arena, Rutherford fought a robber for several minutes but was robbed of "a substantial amount of money" and received minor injuries.[2]

Running for Genesee County Clerk as a Democrat in 1984, he lost in the primary to John H. Trecha, the incumbent, by 73 votes, 13,444 to 13,371. Rutherford ran once again for mayor of Flint in 1987, but came in third out of seven candidates in the primary with Sharp and Matthew S. Collier continuing on to the general election.[2]

Moving back to the private sector in 1989, he worked as head of public relations for Windmill Place, then owned by businessman Don Williamson. Rutherford became Williamson's co-campaign manager for his run for mayor of Flint in 1991, assisting in filing petitions, but Williamson failed to advance out of the primary. In 1999, he aided state Rep. Vera B. Rison in her run for mayor by appearing in a television commercial, however Rison took third in the primary.[2]

After the March 5, 2002 recall of Mayor Stanley, Rutherford failed to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. However, the election was canceled due to the state's financial review of the city and a financial manager, Ed Kurtz, was named for the city. When the election was rescheduled, Rutherford collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot for mayor, becoming the only candidate on the ballot.[2] Rutherford wins the Flint Mayoral election[7] over write in candidate, Arthur J. Pointer—11,239 to 4,712.[8]

In 2003, Rutherford took on an additional position as the director of the Flint Downtown Development Authority and continued in this capacity under mayor Don Williamson[9] serving until 2008.[2]


Rutherford died January 14, 2010 in his sleep at the age of 84 years.[3][4]

Political offices
Preceded by
Darnell Earley, temporary
(City Administrator)
Mayor of Flint
Succeeded by
Don Williamson
Preceded by
(Paul Calvin Visser)
(City Commission Mayor)
Mayor of Flint
Succeeded by
James A. Sharp, Jr.
Preceded by
Director of Flint Downtown Development Authority
Succeeded by
Larry Ford, interim


  1. ^ Mayors of Flint, 1855-2005
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Longley, Kristin (January 14, 2010). "Timeline of the late former Flint Mayor James Rutherford's life in Flint". Flint Journal. Flint, Michigan: Booth Newspapers. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Dougovito, Lori (2010-01-14). "Former Flint Mayor Jim Rutherford dies". Flint, Michigan: WJRT-TV/DT. Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2010-01-15.
  4. ^ a b Longley, Kristin (January 14, 2010). "Former Flint Mayor James Rutherford remembered as community cheerleader". Flint Journal. Flint, Michigan: Booth Newspapers. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  5. ^ a b City of Flint, Michigan Charter 1974. ARTICLE IX. TRANSITION. Sec. 9–102 FIRST ELECTION FOR MAYOR.
  6. ^ a b Raymer, Marjory (2007-08-09). "Two white candidates make history". Flint Journal. Flint, Michigan: Booth Newspapers. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  7. ^ Fonger, Ron (2008-12-16). "Woodrow Stanley, headed for state House, thanks county commission for giving his political career new life". Flint Journal. Flint, Michigan: Booth Newspapers. Archived from the original on 2013-01-04.
  8. ^ "PRIMARY ELECTION GENESEE COUNTY, MICHIGAN TUESDAY, AUGUST 6, 2002". Genesee County Website. Flint, Michigan: GENESEE COUNTY, MICHIGAN. August 6, 2002. Archived from the original on November 1, 2013. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  9. ^ Charlton, Brian (2006-07-10). "GM's Troubles Driving Down a City". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. p. C-10. Retrieved 2009-01-06.