Finley: Snyder’s speech is good first step

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder found the urgency and empathy Tuesday night that has been so absent from his response to the Flint water crisis.

His tone was sober, his mood contrite, his demeanor one of a man who realizes he’s screwed up badly and is determined to make it right.

It was a good speech. And a good plan for providing emergency relief to the people of Flint, who, because of decisions made by Snyder’s administration, must deal with the tragic poisoning of their children by lead tainted water.

But was it enough?

Not yet. It will take much more than one speech for Snyder to redeem himself from this colossal blunder.

Still, Snyder spoke with an emotion that comes hard for the self-professed nerd, whose instinct when faced with tragedy is to reach for a calculator and not a handkerchief.

True to style, Snyder the management specialist deferred to his staff experts when the specter of contaminated water demanded that he ask more and tougher questions himself.

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But he was as emotional as I’ve seen him. His voice quavered to the point of tears at times, and other times flashed with anger. He had been humbled and he said so.

The governor’s first promise of the night, to release all his emails related to Flint, was a huge step in restoring his credibility. Transparency must be his watchword from here on out.

Laying out the timeline of how his staff responded to the crisis was also an essential piece of the restoration process. Lots of agencies at every level of government failed Flint, and the public should know that.

The governor also fought back against the narrative that he fiddled while the children of Flint were gulping poisoned water.

He detailed an active response, without making excuses for his own shortcomings. He admitted he didn’t do enough, and apologized.

In short, he manned up.

But I couldn’t help thinking this speech was exactly what was needed — many weeks ago.

Had Snyder said these things, showed this same passion, when the severity of the emergency was first realized, he might have stepped up and delivered Flint the attention it deserved — and avoided the escalating condemnation of his performance.

Now, the narrative of an insensitive and incompetent governor will be difficult to overcome.

Snyder even has become an issue in the presidential campaign, with Bernie Sanders calling for his resignation and Hillary Clinton tagging him as a civil rights violator. The political opportunity is too great for them to be moved by Snyder’s speech or his plan.

Likewise, the demonstrators calling for Snyder’s head won’t be soothed by anything they heard Tuesday night. They’ve already made up their minds and they have been given plenty of ammunition to press their protest.

Just look at the social network postings during the address. Snyder’s detractors stuck to their guns as if they heard nothing he said.

Redemption for Rick Snyder won’t come with one speech. Or with a dozen.

That will take much more. Flint must become his second home, if not his first.

Earning back trust and restoring his reputation will take an everyday commitment to making things right in Flint, and in actually getting it right.

Snyder took an important first step last night. But he’d be kidding himself to think that he’s turned the tide of national denouncement.

That’ll take a lot more than talk, and every single day of the three years he has left.