Stein: Water for Detroiters is ‘human right’

Michael Gerstein Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Detroit -- Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein criticized shutting off water for Detroit residents as she called Saturday for making access to water a “human right.”

She also railed against Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump in a speech before about 100 raucous supporters in Bert’s Warehouse Theatre in Eastern Market. Stein said she hopes to pick up disgruntled supporters of the main two political party candidates as well as self-declared democratic socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The 66-year-old doctor said she and running mate Ajamu Baraka, founding executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, are an alternative to voting “for the lesser of two evils.”

“We should have a lot of trouble sleeping if Donald Trump gets elected,” Stein said. “But we should also have a lot of trouble sleeping if Hillary Clinton gets elected."

The Detroit water department began residential and commercial shutoffs in 2014 in an attempt to crackdown on widespread delinquencies amid the city’s financial crisis. The move prompted criticism from the United Nations, celebrities and others.

Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein, right, and vice presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka address the media during a rally held at Bert's Warehouse Theatre in Eastern Market on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Detroit.

Under Mayor Mike Duggan, the city later rolled out an assistance program to help low-income residents. About 30,000 of the department’s residential and commercial customers were on payment plans in May, when the city started shutoffs again.

But Stein, who has made public health issues a key part of her campaign, said Detroiters have a right to get water.

The Massachusetts physician also vowed to put an immediate halt to all new fossil fuel infrastructure if elected as she made her first official campaign visit this year to Michigan. Under her proposed “Green New Deal,” America would get all of its power from wind, solar and other clean energy sources.

Stein received support from 3.4 percent of 600 likely Michigan voters surveyed in a July 30-Aug. 1 Detroit News-WDIV poll. She trailed Clinton, Trump and Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor.

But she said she still thinks she can win the election on Nov. 8.

“It’s not just in our dreams, right here in Detroit, Michigan, it’s in our hands,” Stein told cheering supporters.

The candidate touched on Michigan issues, saying the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water as well as the state-appointed emergency management of schools and cities wouldn’t have happened had she been elected in 2012, when she also was the Green Party’s nominee.

“No, absolutely not,” she said.

She said she is trying to carry the torch against an “undemocratic school system” in Detroit that allows state-appointed emergency managers to close schools and make other moves.

Fred Vitale, chairman of the Michigan Green Party, said he was excited that Stein focused on Michigan issues, including calling for the closing of the Enbridge Line Five that carries oil under the Straits of Mackinac.

“We’re really asking people to think a little differently about the world that we’re in,” Vitale said.

Stein also criticized U.S. trade deals, interventionist foreign policy campaigns, massive student debt, income inequality and what she called mass incarceration.

She focused on the two leading presidential candidates and made clear she is no fan of Trump, the New York businessman. But she made a more pointed rhetorical assault on the former secretary of state from whom she could pick up votes.

“What Donald Trump says is absolutely despicable. But I have to say, Hillary’s track record … when you look at what she’s done, it’s absolutely terrifying,” Stein said, citing the bombing in Libya and a proposed no-fly zone over Syria that she said could plunge the United States into a possible nuclear war with Russia.

Former Sanders supporter Lena Thompson, a Stein convert, said supporting Stein “is a natural progression for us to move into her campaign, because the reason that we all got involved in the first place was because of issues, not because of personality.”

Thompson, a 52-year-old Ford Motor Co. manager, said the excitement about Stein started at the Democratic National Convention in July when Stein lobbied delegates for support.

“When we heard that she was in the building, it got around,” she said. “ ...We were seeking her out, once we heard that she was there. I don’t even think she knew that she would get as much support as she did from us.”

Stein said in her speech that she plans to fix the economy, environment, health care system and education system through a host of initiatives that center around the Green New Deal.

Stein said she plans to use massive cuts to the military budget to help pay for the Green New deal, which would ensure that every American receives health insurance.

If military expenditure cuts aren’t enough to pay for the effort, she said her proposed government spending increases of hundreds of billions of dollars would “pay for themselves” in other ways, such as people getting healthier by breathing cleaner air and making “wars for oil obsolete.”

To help with the cost of her single-payer health care system, she said, “All we gotta do is redirect that money from bureaucracy, from waste, from paper pushing, from exorbitant CEO costs.”

mgerstein@detroitnews.com