Politics

What The Mayor Of Flint Thinks Of The Governor’s Apology For Poisoned Water

CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver talks to reporters in Washington, D.C.

In his State of the State address Tuesday night, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) took responsibility for the lead poisoning crisis in the city of Flint, which has left tens of thousands of residents without safe tap water and infected the blood of the children of the city. The governor, who is currently under federal investigation and battling a class action lawsuit from residents, promised this week to step up aid to the city, finance infrastructure improvements, and release two years of his e-mails related to the water contamination.

But some Michigan officials and residents are not satisfied.

Protesters outside the statehouse called for Snyder’s resignation and arrest.

Dr. Karen Weaver, the mayor of Flint, told ThinkProgress on Wednesday that while she agrees with Snyder that that the lead contamination was caused by “failure at every level of government,” she feels “the state is ultimately responsible.”

“I’m waiting for the investigation to say who knew what and when,” she said. “I’m going to let that play out, and when it does I think it won’t have just the governor’s name on it. There’s enough blame to go all the way around. But we know the buck stops with the Governor.”

Weaver was only just sworn into office in November, after running on a platform of solving the water crisis. Since 2011, the city has been under control of an emergency manager appointed by Snyder, who made the decision in 2013 to switch the city off of its shared water system with Detroit and instead use water from the Flint River that flowed through contaminated pipes.

While calling the promises outlined by Snyder in his State of the State speech “a good start,” Weaver told ThinkProgress much more needs to be done. “What we have is a case of broken trust. You don’t regain trust that was broken over several years with just a statement. He’s going to have to work on this for a long, long time to regain our trust and confidence.”

What Weaver says frustrates and confuses her most is the amount of time it took for the state government to act on reports of contaminated water in her city — nearly two years. She agrees with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who she endorsed this week, that the delay may have been exacerbated discrimination against Flint’s majority black and majority poor population, but wants a full explanation from the state.

“Nearly two years ago, when I heard they were switching our water source to the Flint River, I immediately stopped drinking tap water,” she said. “I made a conscious decision, as did my husband too. And our residents have been speaking out ever since that switch was made. They marched. The pastors got together. But nothing happened until the Virginia Tech researchers came in and tested the water. That alone took a year. Why did it take so long? We don’t need scientists to tell us that brown water is not good.”

Even after the test results came back showing dangerously high levels of lead contamination in the city’s water, it took several more months for the governor to declare a state of emergency and switch the city back to its previous water source, which it shared with Detroit. Now, Weaver says it’s taking too long to bring adequate aid to her city’s residents.

“We know the state has a ‘rainy day fund.’ Well, this is a rainy day for the city of Flint,” she said. “Actually, it’s raining cats and dogs. We need that money to be directed to our city.”

That fund currently has nearly $500 million in it. Snyder has asked the legislature to approve $28 million in emergency aid to Flint.

Weaver came to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with President Obama and to attend the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors, where she asked for fellow mayors’ support and urged them to “pay attention to what’s happening with your water, and don’t let this happen where you live.”

Besides the public health concerns, the mayor reported that the water contamination has had a disastrous effect on the city’s already struggling economy.

“It’s had a grave economic impact,” she said. “People are leaving. People can’t afford the [bottled] water. This is devastating our businesses, especially restaurants, because people are scared and wondering, ‘What kind of water was this food cooked in?’ The restaurants have had to invest in these expensive water filtration systems that they shouldn’t have to pay for, and many can’t do that.”

President Obama is visiting the state of Michigan on Wednesday but has not scheduled a trip to nearby Flint. The White House said this week that officials from FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services will be visiting, and will continue to monitor the situation.

On Wednesday, Mayor Weaver emphasized that “Flint needs to be a priority” for the nation.

“This is something that no one should have to deal with,” she said. “Everyone should have clean water. It’s ironic when you live in the Great Lakes State and we don’t have access to clean water. It’s just a travesty.”