Congressional Dems visit Flint: We know we have to act

Leonard N. Fleming and Jacob Carah
The Detroit News

Flint — More than 20 Congressional Democrats converged on Flint yet again to hear concerns from residents still suffering from the lead water crisis and to continue to push for federal and state aid.

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi joined Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, and several other leaders from around the country to spend nearly two hours with hundreds of residents who packed a church here to share their experiences about their water struggles.

“What is happening in Flint challenges the consciousness of our nation,” said Pelosi, following the event at Grace Emmanuel Baptist Church. It was the third such event in recent weeks. “This is a tragedy of such magnitude because it breaks the bond that people have with the government to be there on issues like the safety of the water our children drink. What we’ve learned today, we know we have to act.”

Pelosi and others, along with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who attended the event, scoffed at suggestions by Republicans — punctuated by some during the GOP presidential debate in Detroit on Thursday — that Democrats are politicizing the crisis.

“If we hadn’t gotten the national attention, we wouldn’t see all of Congress standing here before us today,” Weaver said.

Kildee said Congressional Democrats will push for an aide package in a Republican House and Senate but also called on Gov. Rick Snyder to begin shifting more dollars toward Flint and its residents.

“In the state of Michigan there’s a billion dollars sitting between the rainy day fund and the unexpected budget surplus from last year. And 100,000 people in Flint, Michigan, don’t have water they can drink and their children have been poisoned,” he said.

Then he added: “Gov. Snyder, use your rainy day fund. It’s raining in Flint. And these people deserve you to step up and make right what you did to the people of Flint.”

The scene Friday inside the sanctuary was filled with many Flint residents, some of whom were brought to tears over the struggles they have faced due to the corrosive water.

Vera Perry, member of the Flint school board, said she wanted “to hear some truthful answers,” from the congressional leaders, “not the answers they think we want to hear.”

Melissa Mays, who an early opponent of switching the water in April 2014, said she was moved to hear from those in the community affected. And she said she was moved by so many members of Congress coming to visit.

“That’s been the problem: The people were ignored,” she said. “We’ve had to protest, we’ve had to march so when they sat there and listened to us, listened to our anger and our frustration and treat us like human beings, well that’s what’s been missing.”

While detailing the benefits of a federal government aid package being worked on in Washington, Stabenow said during the meeting with residents that she knows “where the responsibility and accountability lies,” and that there as in her mind “neglect and malfeasance” — a comment that drew cheers from the audience.

“Of what has happened, we know what the accountability needs to be around that, we know ... that means dollars,” she said. “We are on all fronts doing everything we can, knowing that it’s the majority in Lansing and the governor who better step up.”

Kildee said he will keep fighting for more dollars in Congress and pressure Snyder to let go of more state funds.

“We’ve had problems before this,” Kildee said. “This is the biggest problem I ever recall facing as a person involved in a local seat for a long time. We will get through it. We just need the resources, mostly from the people who did this to Flint.”

lfleming@detroitnews.com

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