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James W. Rutherford

86th / 1st (strong) executive Mayor of the City of Flint
In office
Preceded by Paul Calvin Visser, City Commission Mayor
Succeeded by James A. Sharp, Jr.[1]

90th / 5th (strong) executive Mayor of the City of Flint
In office
August 6, 2002 – 2003
Preceded by Darnell Earley, Temporary
Succeeded by Don Williamson

Flint Downtown Development Authority Director
In office
Succeeded by Larry Ford, interim

Deputy City Manager, City of Flint
In office

Born April 23, 1925
Flint, Michigan[2]
Died January 14, 2010 (aged 84)
Flint, Michigan[3]
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Dorothy Petyak
Betty Merrill (divorced)
Relations Harry and Isabelle, parents[2]; Genevieve Young, fiancée
Children Michael, Jimmy, Marcia and Michele[4]
Alma mater Flint Central High School[2]
Flint Junior College
Michigan State University[2]
Profession Law enforcement

James W. Rutherford (April 23, 1925 – January 14, 2010) was a former 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

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

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's 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 afterwords 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 serving as the first "strong" mayor elected under Flint's 1974 charter[2][5] serving two terms defeated former city commission Mayor Floyd J. McCree.[2][6] That same year, James marries his second wife, Betty Merrill. Rutherford in 1977 donates $22,000 to the city for an ambulance which the service last until 2010.[2]

Running for reelection in 1979, he defeats McCree again, 20,738 to 12,902. With a budget shortage, Rutherford lays off 300 employees. That same year, he announced, with the backing of 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 encourages other development like the downtown 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. -- 21,718 to 20,467. He took severance pay of $24,000 along with some of his appointees which triggered a lawsuit. With top aides, he forms the Rutherford Group, Inc. that goes on to run pizzarias 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 is robbed of "a substantial amount of money" and receives minor injuries.[2]

Running for Genesee County Clerk as a Democrat in 1984, he loses in the primary to John H. Trecha, the incumbent, by 73 votes, 13,444 to 13,371.Once again, Rutherford runs for Flint mayor in 1987 but coming 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 section in 1989, he works as head of public relations for Windmill Place, then-owned by businessman Don Williamson. Rutherford becomes Williamson's co-campaign manager for his run for Flint Mayor in 1991 assisting in filing petitions, but Williamson fails to advance out of the primary. In 1999, he aides state Rep. Vera B. Rison in her run for mayor by appearing in television commercial, however Rison takes third in the primary.[2]

After the March 5, 2002 recall of Mayor Stanley, Rutherford takes out but fails to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. However, the election is conceled due to the state's financial review of the city. A financial manager, Ed Kurtz, is named for the city. When the election is reschedule, he collects enough signatures and becomes the only name on the ballot for mayor.[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 old.[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. ^
  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 (01/14/2010). "Former Flint Mayor Jim Rutherford dies". Flint, Michigan: WJRT-TV/DT. 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" (in 2009-01-05). Flint Journal (Flint, Michigan: Booth Newspapers). 
  8. ^ "PRIMARY ELECTION GENESEE COUNTY, MICHIGAN TUESDAY, AUGUST 06, 2002". Genesee County Website. Flint, Michigan: GENESEE COUNTY, MICHIGAN. AUGUST 06, 2002. 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. 


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