Flint pastor chastises Trump for politicizing event

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Flint — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was chastised Wednesday by a Flint minister about politicizing his visit to her church after he toured Flint’s water treatment plant.

The exchange occurred as Trump was trying to do more outreach to African-American voters. Speaking to a crowd of about 70 people invited to hear the New York businessman inside Bethel United Methodist Church, Trump attempted to tie Flint’s long economic decline to trade deals supported by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Trump tells Detroit pastor: ‘I’m least racist person’

“Hillary failed with the economy just like she has failed on foreign policy — everything she touched didn’t work out. Nothing,” Trump said.

The Rev. Faith Green Timmons, pastor of the Bethel United Methodist Church, interrupted Trump while he was standing on a stage in the church’s fellowship hall.

“Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us for what we’ve done in Flint, not to give a political speech,” Timmons said.

“Oh, oh, oh, OK, that’s good,” Trump replied. “Then I’m going back on Flint.”

The real estate developer then began talking about Flint’s water crisis and predicted the city will recover. A few of the people in attendance interrupted Trump until Timmons told them to “respect him” as “guests of my church.”

“Thank you, pastor,” Trump said. “The damage can be corrected and corrected by people who know what they’re doing.”

Trump did not detail any specific policies or initiatives he would pursue to make Flint’s water safe to drink again without faucet filters.

“I can only say in the strongest of terms that we can fix this problem, it’s going to take time, it’s amazing the damage that’s been done,” Trump said. “But we’ll get it fixed and … it will be fixed quickly and effectively and Flint will come back. Most importantly, we’ll bring jobs back to Flint.”

Trump injects Mexico

On the same day Ford Motor Co. said it will move all small car production to Mexico, Trump attempted to tie Flint’s water problems to Mexico’s growing auto production.

“It used to be cars were made in Flint and you couldn’t drink the water in Mexico,” he said. “Now the cars are made in Mexico, and you can’t drink the water in Flint. That’s not good.”

During his speech, Trump said Ford should be stopped.

“We shouldn’t allow it to happen,” he said. “They’ll make their cars, they’ll employ thousands and thousands of people not from this country and they’ll sell the cars right through our border. No tax, no nothing, and we’ll have nothing but more unemployment in Flint and in Michigan. It’s horrible.”

Trump argued that sending jobs elsewhere hurts the tax base “that supports our infrastructure, which includes, by the way, our pipes. I met the most beautiful family, and they are devastated by what’s happened with the water.”

Trump’s trip to Flint was organized, in part, by Armstrong Williams, the black owner of Flint’s NBC television affiliate and a business partner of Dr. Ben Carson, a Detroit native and former presidential candidate who is now advising Trump’s campaign.

Williams introduced Trump and acknowledged the campaign trip was hastily organized on Monday.

In the invited audience at the church was youngster Mari Copeny, whose letter motivated President Barack Obama to visit Flint and taste its water in May. The Rev. Ira Combs, a prominent black Republican and pastor from Jackson, was also in attendance.

Combs said it is “appropriate” for Trump to visit predominately African-American Flint less than two weeks after visiting a black church in Detroit on Sept. 3.

“He’s using techniques that Democrats have always used to reach African-Americans for their votes. And it’s a good thing,” said Combs, pastor of Greater Bible Way Temple in Jackson.

Donald Trump tours the Flint water treatment plant on Sept. 14, 2016.

Inactive Flint plant visited

Trump also briefly toured the plant with city Utilities Administrator JoLisa McDay while the facility wasn’t operating. The New York businessman stood on a bridge inside the water treatment plant, which has not operated since October 2015 when the city switched back to Detroit’s water system following the discovery of high levels of toxic lead in the water.

McDay explained to Trump how water will again be treated in the plant when Flint starts getting untreated water from the Karegnondi Water Authority. Flint’s switch to KWA isn’t expected to occur until sometime next year because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requiring the city to meet additional testing criteria before the water flows to city residents.

Trump and McDay could be heard discussing the costs Flint faces in getting its water plant back online.

After the tour, which lasted less than 20 minutes, Trump thanked McDay in front of his traveling press corps.

“I just want to thank the folks from Flint and the really good executives ... you’re going to get it, I have no doubt,” said Trump, who did not elaborate.

Trump is fulfilling a Sept. 3 vow to visit Flint sometime during his general election campaign. In an interview with The Detroit News, Trump said Flint’s lead-contaminated water is a “horror show that ... should have never, ever been allowed to happen.”

In January, Trump called Flint’s water crisis “a shame” when asked about it on the campaign trail in Iowa, but declined to comment at length about the Snyder administration’s response to high levels of lead in the water and bloodstreams of Flint residents.

Trump speculated earlier this month that Flint’s use of the Flint River from April 2014 to October 2015 was the result of companies profiting while the new Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline to Lake Huron was being built.

“And probably they wanted it to happen because companies were going to make a lot of money from the switch,” Trump told The News. “That’s probably what happened, who knows?”

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Wednesday at a Washington, D.C., news conference that she was miffed that Trump didn’t grant her the “courtesy and respect” of a phone call before announcing his plans to visit the city water plant. A Flint mayoral spokeswoman said the Trump campaign called Monday about the Flint water plant tour, and the New York businessman’s campaign told The Detroit News about its Flint visit late Tuesday morning.

A Clinton supporter, Weaver said Trump had “not much to say” about Flint in the past, and that his trip comes months after Clinton first called to offer help to Flint.

Clinton highlighted Flint’s water crisis in January during a Democratic presidential candidates debate and later visited a Flint church, where Clinton’s campaign filmed her addressing congregants for television ads.

Republicans contend Gov. Rick Snyder was already in the process of calling in the Michigan National Guard to deliver bottled water to Flint residents when Clinton drew attention to Flint’s water being contaminated with lead.

Clinton hasn’t been back to Flint since debating Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on March 6 in a televised debate two days before the Michigan primary, which she narrowly lost to Sanders.

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.