Bankole: After Snyder, Flint must remain top priority

Bankole Thompson

Gov. Rick Snyder told me at the annual media holiday reception at the governor’s mansion in Lansing that he plans to take a vacation to mark the end of his eight-year run as Michigan’s chief executive. Then he will decide what to do next.

Gretchen Whitmer campaigns in Flint on April 28 and helps with a bottled water distribution. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate has attacked her GOP opponent Bill Schuette for purportedly ignoring early complaints about the Flint water crisis.

But truth be told, whatever he does next after his vacation, he will be fine. Even if he wasn’t the wealthy businessman that he is, Snyder would still be OK because there are always opportunities galore waiting for retiring major political leaders — Democrat or Republican — to carve out their next steps after elected office.

Yet, the city that won’t be doing fine as the governor is preparing to exit the stage is Flint, where Snyder presided over the worst public health scandal of the modern era. Many will remember the negligence in Flint, an economically impoverished and majority black city where approximately 10,000 of its children were exposed to lead-tainted water for 18-months before it became a national and international embarrassment in 2015.

The fact that the state virtually served as a spectator instead of aggressively moving to intervene in the early stages of the crisis, as evidenced by the reported emails of state bureaucrats, showed the extent to which those responsible for the crisis abdicated their duties to the people of Flint.

In light of what Snyder may consider to be his achievements in office, Flint mayor Karen Weaver told me earlier this week that there shouldn’t be any doubt in anyone’s mind that Flint is Snyder’s legacy. 

“How can Flint not be Snyder’s legacy? How can you forget what happened under his administration here? If you have not had a personal experience with the lead water situation or lost a loved one as a result of the Legionnaires’ disease or have a stillbirth, then you won’t know what happened here,” Weaver said.

Weaver, a clinical psychologist whose 2015 election as mayor during the height of the crisis was her first run for public office, was emotional and sometimes impatient during the interview. She still wants justice for her constituents.

“I think the biggest blow to us was the state not listening to us. Our people did not have a voice to tell their story,” Weaver said about how Flint was ignored when it cried out for help.

She added: “Snyder did not fix Flint. We had to go to court to get the pipes replaced.”

For Flint resident Ariana Hawk, whose 5-year-old son Sincere Smith, graced the cover of Time magazine in 2016 under the title, “The poisoning of an American city,” for rashes all over his body due to lead exposure, it’s been a heartbreaking experience for the past couple of years. 

“We are still in a recovery. As a resident and mom, it still feels like 2014, when we were begging for someone to hear our cries,” Hawk said. “Folks are still using bottle water to shower their kids. We are still in the mode that Snyder got us in.”

Hawk said the destiny of Flint now is tied to that of the entire state.

“Michigan cannot move forward without Flint,” Hawk said. “We cannot have a healthy Michigan, without a healthy Flint.”

While Sincere is still trying to cope, Hawk said her other son Kwame Johnson, 11, who was also exposed to lead, has been struggling to remember things in school. The sixth-grader loves basketball but can’t even sometimes remember how many points he scored in his games. 

Numerous studies have shown lead poison can impact the cognitive development of kids.

“I’m scared to take him to the doctor because I don’t want him to be placed on medication and the long-term effect of that,” Hawk said.

The Flint mother is hopeful about Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer helping the city.

“What we are expecting Gretchen Whitmer to do is to hold up her promise to not give up this fight with us,” Hawk said.

Weaver agreed.

“I’m excited about this new administration coming in because we had to fight for everything we got from the Snyder administration,” Weaver said. “I’m hoping we don’t have to fight like that with the administration of Gov. Whitmer because she has kept Flint in a lot of the conversations and recognizes the fact that Flint needs to be made whole.”

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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