By: Kiel Watson
In its 88 years as a city Dearborn has had a total of six mayors, and last Tuesday a majority of the city voted not to add a 7th to the list when John B. O’Reilly, Jr. was re-elected 57% to 42% over Thomas Tafelski.
Following its incorporation as a city in 1929 Clyde Ford, cousin of Henry Ford, was elected the city’s first mayor. Born in Dearborn Township on a farm, he remained in office for four terms until 1936. During his tenure he oversaw the opening of Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, the Dearborn Inn, and the relocation of the Ford Rotunda from the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair to its next home on Schaefer near the Rouge Plant.
Ford’s time as mayor was during the Great Depression, however, and he was also in office when the Ford Hunger March occurred. After being subjected to tear gas, beaten with clubs, and sprayed by fire hoses the protesters faced a hail of bullets from the Dearborn Police and Ford security forces while attempting to flee. Ultimately 5 workers died and 60 were injured in the event.
After his time as Mayor ended in 1936 Ford was elected president of the city council, and remained active within the city in the DPW Commision, Library Board and Board of Assessors. At the time of his death in 1944 he lived on Long Boulevard. adjacent to Ford Field.
Clyde Ford was succeeded as Mayor in 1936 by John Carey. The development of Dearborn continued as the Montgomery Ward building in East Dearborn was built and the relocation of the Ford Rotunda was completed, which eventually became the fifth largest tourist attraction in the country before being destroyed by a fire in the 1960‘s. As with Ford’s time as mayor, unrest continued in the auto industry as Ford security assaulted union organizers in front of a Detroit Free Press photographer in the Battle of the Overpass.
After Carey left office Dearborn came under the administration of the infamous Mayor Orville Hubbard in 1942, which deserves its own article. When Hubbard left office 36 years later he held the record for longest sitting full-time mayor in the country.
Hubbard’s time as mayor saw the destruction by fire of the Ford Rotunda, which had become one of the largest tourist attractions in the country and at its peak during the 1950’s received more visitors than the Statue of Liberty. The city purchased both Camp Dearborn in Milford and the Dearborn Towers in Clearwater, FL, and Fairlane Mall opened its doors. He also was the mayor in office when Dearborn gained the Henry Ford Community College and University of Michigan-Dearborn. His legacy of racism still haunts Dearborn to this day as the display of his statue outside of the Dearborn Historical Museum recently became caught in the furor of debate over the removal of confederate statues in other parts of the country.
Despite his history of racist and segregationist policies, or perhaps because of those policies as our current President has shown us, Hubbard remained in office until 1978. Hubbard also championed an expansion of city services that to this day still make Dearborn stand out in the Metro Detroit area, leaving a bittersweet legacy for the city.
Following in the footsteps of Hubbard was John B. O’Reilly, Sr. The father of our current mayor, O’Reilly was the Chief of Police for 11 years prior to holding office. A veteran of WW II and the Korean War, O’Reilly helped begin the great tradition of Dearborn’s Homecoming Festival.
Under the catchphrase “Good neighbors make good neighbors,” O’Reilly streamlined city services by reducing city departments from 21 to 13, and cut the city deficit by one third. O’Reilly spent his time in office pushing for the revitalization of the shopping districts in both east and west Dearborn before leaving office in 1985.
After O’Reilly vacated the office the city of Dearborn was governed by its youngest mayor ever,
Michael Guido. Guido was only 31 years old at the time of his election, and had already served eight years on the city council before then. Guido ushered Dearborn into the modern day, begining city services such as curbside recycling before such services became common.
The city during his administration built the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, the largest municipality owned facility of its kind in North America. Guido was such a popular figure in Dearborn due to his personal dedication to public service in the city that he ran completely unopposed in two mayoral elections. He held office until his death in 2006, having chosen to continue his work after his cancer diagnosis early in the year.
After Guido’s death the son of the previous office holder became our city’s newest mayor in 2007. John B. O’Reilly, Jr. served as City Council President for 17 years before becoming interim mayor following the death of Michael Guido, and won the following election with 94% of the votes. While some city services have been reduced, such as the number of outdoor pools, the city has continued its efforts to make Dearborn a place where people want to live. After earning a reputation for not being dog-friendly, the city built a resident-only dog park which opened fall of this year.
The margin of victory was much slimmer this year for O’Reilly after stiff competition from City Council President Thomas Tafelski. By the time of the next election the city will have had six mayors from 5 families over the course of 92 years.