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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Monday, September 14, 2009

NAKED CAME THE MAYOR by Bruce Laidlaw

"He was the voice of Republicanism in the middle of the radical sixties and seventies," says John Stephenson about his father, Jim Stephenson, mayor of Ann Arbor from 1973-75. Stephenson infuriated thousands of young voters when he led city council in voting to overturn the infamous $5 pot fine--so much so that one young rebel threw a cherry pie in his face. In the end, the potheads prevailed: they had the votes to bring back the "penalty" by amending the city charter.

Jim Stephenson was much less an anti-drug zealot than a proud civic citizen, says John, a retired newspaper editor. "It was the image that had been cultivated as Ann Arbor as an all-American city, and suddenly it's the dope capital of the Midwest.

John and his brother Dan thought their attorney dad's life story interesting enough that they taped extensive interviews with him, then shaped his memories into the memoir
Naked Came the Mayor, available at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Former city attorney Bruce Laidlaw's tenure overlapped Stephenson's. Here's his review of the book:


Naked came the Mayor is a moving chronicle of the life of James Stephenson. It documents the tumultuous Ann Arbor politics of the 60s and 70s when Stephenson was an Ann Arbor city council member and then mayor. It was an era when there were three political parties that elected council members. In Stephenson's bid for reelection as mayor he received the most "first-place" votes of the three candidates, but he was defeated because he did not receive enough "second-place" votes. It was Ann Arbor's one-time experiment with preferential voting, a complicated system of ranking first, second and third preferences for mayor.

The book provides a very readable description of Stephenson's remarkable eighty-three-year life. There were low points including the tragic suicide of Stephenson's mother and a first wife's battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. We learn that Stephenson had a heart attack at age ten that did not keep him from an active sporting life including running the Dexter-Ann Arbor race in his 50s. There is even an amusing description of Buster the pet badger that lived with the Stephenson family when Stephenson was growing up in Iowa.

The description of Stephenson's successful career as a patent attorney includes a plain English lesson patent law--an easy-to-read introduction to that arcane world.

The book concludes with wonderful photographs from life in Iowa in the 1920s, Ann Arbor election campaigns and the "grampa years."

James E. Stephenson died on August 29, 2009.

posted by John Hilton at 6:05 p.m. | 0 comments


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