Charlotte Rothstein

First female mayor of Oak Park campaigned tirelessly to keep Jewish community intact

Date of Birth: November 14, 1924

Date of Death: October 7, 1997

Place of Birth: Detroit

It was exceptionally fitting in 1991 for the City of Oak Park, Michigan, to name one of the signature design features of the I-696 Expressway for Charlotte M. Rothstein. Residents continue to benefit into the 21st century thanks to Charlotte’s perseverance regarding the issue of the expressway’s impact on the community.

The Waterstone family, including parents Meyer and Sarah, and their three children -- Alvin, Charlotte, and Janet -- lived on Fullerton Street in Detroit and were members of Congregation Shaarey Zedek.. Charlotte graduated from Central High School in 1942 and attended Wayne State University. Following her marriage to Ben Rothstein in 1951, they moved to a modest home on the corner of Westhampton and Dartmouth streets in Oak Park. The home became the holiday celebrations for the Waterstone and Rothstein families and eventually served as campaign headquarters for Charlotte’s political career.

When her two children, Alan and Rachel, entered junior high school, Charlotte desired to get more involved in local community issues. She returned to school, earning a degree in library technology from Oakland Community College. While working as a media coordinator in Royal Oak, she decided to get more involved in local politics. With the support of her family, Charlotte ran for Oak Park City Council and was elected as the first city councilwoman in 1973.

“She had the whole family’s unwavering support,” said daughter Rachel (Rothstein) McCarthy. “We produced the early campaign posters and bumper stickers in our family basement.”

In 1981, Charlotte was campaigning for reelection to her council seat when Mayor David Shepherd died suddenly, resulting in the election of the only remaining candidate on the ballot. Charlotte mounted a vibrant write-in election campaign for mayor, and was subsequently elected mayor and re-elected to her council seat. She served as mayor from 1981 to 1991.

During her tenure as mayor, the planned construction for the I-696 Expressway showed it cutting the city literally in two, devastating many neighborhoods, but in particular, the city’s Orthodox Jewish community, which was the largest in the Detroit metropolitan area in the 1980s. Charlotte lobbied the federal government to assure pedestrian walkways and decks would be built to allow residents walking access to the city’s 19 synagogues.

“Her persistence paid off,” said former Mayor Gerald Naftaly, who served as a councilman throughout Charlotte’s ten-year mayoral tenure. “She worked with our Congressional representatives to get our voices heard and heeded. This was crucial to the final approval for the connecting decks that kept our community from being divided, and at the same time, establishing a pair of new public recreational facilities.”