Flint feels distress, hope about Trump’s election

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

The election of Republican Donald Trump as president is stirring distress as well as a cautious hope for dealing with Flint’s lead-contamination crisis.

The New York businessman visited Flint in mid-September, touring the city’s inactive water treatment plant and vowing to fix the water problem “quickly and effectively.” Trump mentioned the city frequently in stump speeches, calling it in the past week a “troubled place” and blaming the contamination on unnamed “incompetent politicians.”

But the Democratic-controlled, majority African-American city had looked forward to the election of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who championed Flint’s cause. She, former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea visited Flint and the former secretary of state regularly mentioned Flint’s plight while getting updates from Mayor Karen Weaver.

Once Clinton conceded the race to Trump, many Flint residents became uneasy.

“I was horrified, absolutely horrified,” said Melissa Mays, a resident and activist who has called attention to the city’s water contamination issues.

Part of the horror comes from dealing with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration. Flint’s lead contamination and Legionella outbreaks have been attributed to poor decisions made by Snyder-appointed emergency financial managers, as well as failed oversight by the state’s environmental quality and health departments.

“Snyder’s administration is an example of what goes wrong when you run government like a business,” Mays said. “And that’s Trump’s approach as well.”

Mayor Weaver’s office was measured in releasing a Wednesday statement.

“In the end, regardless of race and socioeconomic status, we are all Americans,” Weaver’s office said. “This country belongs to all of us, and we must work together to move forward. We congratulate Donald Trump and will certainly keep him in our prayers.”

But Hurley Medical Center researcher Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who more than a year ago documented Flint children’s exposure to dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water, struck a note of hope Wednesday based on past statements by the president-elect. Last spring, she crossed paths with Trump at a New York awards event where she urged him to visit Flint.

“The response to the Flint water crisis is not a partisan issue, it is a humanitarian issue,” she told The Detroit News in an email. “I am encouraged that Donald Trump came to Flint when he didn’t have to. He spoke with passion about the Flint tragedy. He also made infrastructure improvement a big part of his platform.

“I hope that the commitment he made to Flint in the campaign will bring concrete resources into the community to replace the pipes and provide a long-term commitment to the kids unnecessarily exposed to lead in their water.”

In late September, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure authorizing $170 million in infrastructure spending for communities like Flint where contamination health issues are in play. The Senate also has approved a plan that made up to $100 million available to communities like Flint.

In early October, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, indicated the two legislative bodies would seek a compromise in conference committee negotiations. But he would not commit to an amount of funding that could help Flint.

On Wednesday, Mays said many city residents are now worried the money won’t eventually be available.

Federal commitments to Flint go beyond funding proposals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to monitor recovery efforts in Flint.

Trump has threatened cuts to the EPA’s budget, criticizing its oveall regulatory overreach and hinting at major rollbacks on environmental regulations. So Mays is less hopeful moving forward.

“There wasn’t enough regulation and enforcement to begin with,” she said. “Now there’s going to be less because he’s promised to take them away. So good luck everybody.”

But Pastor Alfred L Harris Sr. of Saints of God Church in Flint said he feels a need to offer hope. As a member of Concerned Pastors for Social Action, he pledged to continue working with local, state and federal agencies to help make residents whole after “being victims of this emergency-disaster they didn’t create.”

“We’re people of faith,” he said Wednesday. “That’s what keeps us putting one foot in front of the other. It’s important who you know (in government), but we believe God turns the hearts of men and women as he turns the rivers. We’re not going to change perspective and give up hope.”

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