“We’ve come a long way,” Mayor Jim Carruthers told The ‘Gander. Here’s a look at a community movement building in a beloved Michigan town.
TRAVERSE CITY, MI—They’re known for the montmorency cherries, memories to be had, and so much more.
Traverse City is a popular small town in the northwestern region of Michigan, home to just under 16,000 people. It’s an idyllic year-round tourist destination where locals, and visitors alike, can bask in the element of picturesque, golden color-changing fall leaves —just as much as the annual picturesque, summer cherry festivals.
The beloved city is embracing new ideals along its historic path this year. In an interview with Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers, he spoke about the city’s identity and how it is becoming more “purple” as community values evolve.
“It’s a great mix of small-town character with great amenities—a lot of farmland,” Carruthers said, adding that the community brings all types of people there. “Traditionally, we’ve been a tourist community. A place for people to come here and have a good time and create lasting memories. I think we’ve come a long way to develop a community that is supportive of all people.”
Carruthers said that presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill support diversity and the LGBTQ community. They also stand on strong values that he believes in, too, like the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think diversity’s changing and the Bidens highlight diversity,” he said, adding that it is important for people to put their differences aside and “work together.” “It is all very important.”
A recent visit from Dr. Jill Biden might have inspired the town like never before as the community proudly bolsters a growing blue wave. Traverse City recently hosted Dr. Biden, who spoke to a crowd of about 100 on Sept. 29 near Traverse City’s Right Brain Brewery, talking about the importance of this election.
“It’s never been easier to do in Michigan,” she told the attendees about voting before touring King Orchards farm in Antrim County, according to an MLive article. “An early vote will help us make sure there’s absolutely no ambiguity on Nov. 4.”
Longtime resident Carruthers said that the visit sparked something in the community that he’s seen change for the better over time.
“We try to cater to everybody’s strong values in the community’s natural environment, and support our neighbors,” Carruthers described the municipality as “pretty blue” and Grand Traverse and the region as “pretty red” and “turning some of those areas purple.”
“We have a mixed diversity in politics up here and we are a stronghold in the region,” he said. “We have the main hospital, main airport, main commerce, and tourist town.”
Carruthers and other residents are particularly fired up about how Traverse City shapes the 2020 election, which is now underway in Michigan.
In the presidential primary, the county’s 36 precincts drew 17,507 who voted Democratic; some 8,625 voted for the Republican party. Looking back at the 2008 general election, the county voted 24,716 votes Republican, or just over 50 percent; 23,258 votes were for the Democratic party—just over 47 percent.
“I feel like I see a lot more Biden signs than Trump signs,” Carruthers said, adding that it depends on which area of up north area one is driving in.
The historically conservative area, he believes, is shifting to embrace progressive ideologies. That’s something Carruthers and his family are leaning into.
“My dad is conservative and is so disenchanted by what’s happening [in the party]—it’s unfortunate that the Republican party has done so much damage. I think a lot of people from the Republican Party will switch. I think we’re going to see a positive turnout from this election.”
In that way, Traverse City is indicative of a larger situation nationwide. Across the Mitten in rural Lenawee County, The ‘Gander reports a spirit of activism has sprung up in a community with deep Republican roots. The same happened in St. Clair County, where progressives have started demonstrating in Port Huron.
Around the country, according to the New York Times, progressives in so-called “Trump Country” are feeling energized in a way they haven’t in a long, long time. And even if this urge in enthusiasm isn’t enough to flip an entire county, Joe Biden explained it still matters a great deal. It moves the needle.
“Even if we just cut the margin,” he said on his whistle stop tour in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, “it makes a gigantic difference.”
Thirty-year Traverse City resident Bonnie Willings attended Dr. Jill Biden’s recent visit to Right Brain Brewery, which is just a block from her.
“I loved that she would pick our sweet town to visit and our weather showed itself off wonderfully for her…a perfect fall day,” Willings said. “I heard more chatter after her visit than before; people were so impressed with her, her presentation, her bearing. She came across as friendly, knowledgeable, efficient. She really hit the mark in being friendly, but not folksy; intelligent, but not aloof; efficient, but not hurried.”
Willings added that while her visit wouldn’t change anyone’s vote, it was a good opportunity for on-the-fence people to learn more in this town.
“We are truly lucky to live in rural America and yet have so many cultural, dining, and sporting opportunities,” she said.
Reporter Katelyn Kivel contributed to this report.