by Eartha Melzer
Openly gay community activist, Jim Carruthers, was sworn in as city commissioner in Traverse City Monday night. Carruthers was elected as part of a landslide anti-incumbent vote which resulted in a starkly reformulated city commission in Traverse City.
“Wow. Now I’m on this side of the desk,” he said as he took his place behind a new commissioner name plate, “Power to the people!”
Carruthers has been a fixture as city meetings for years and is well known as an outspoken advocate for the environment and human rights.
Last year Carruthers argued against public funding for a multi-story parking deck planned by a politically connected developer.
He spearheaded a ballot referendum in which 71 percent of voting city residents vetoed the downtown development plan that had been approved by the city commission.
Carruthers used his popularity to boost the campaigns of two other candidates in the recent election, joining with lawyer Barbara Budros, another commission candidate, and businessman Michael Estes, who ran for mayor. “We Listen” was the motto for this group of candidates, and they promised to be more transparent and more responsive than the incumbents. With voter turn out high, all three candidates won by large margins.
“Today starts a new era in city politics,” Mayor Michael Estes said as he opened the new commission’s first meeting. Estes said that the recent election results mean that governing experience is not always the most important qualification for public office. He said he intends to appoint new people to city boards and commissions wherever possible.
“It feels great to be elected to the city commission even though we did have a last minute smear campaign,” Carruthers said after the meeting.
During the weekend before the election at least two men went door to door in the city distributing letters that claimed that Carruthers supported illegal and immoral sexual activity. Carruthers formerly headed the HIV/AIDS Wellness Network in Traverse City. Wellness workers, supported by state and federal grants, distributed condoms at various places including a public park known as a cruising spot.
Carruthers said he is proud of his public health work as executive director of the Wellness Network.