Flint Mayor: With Water Crisis, Lawmakers Put 'Profit' Over The People
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
For more on the water crisis in Flint, I'm joined now by the city's mayor, Karen Weaver. She took office last November after campaigning on fixing the city's water problems. While she's in Washington for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, she has stopped by our studios. Mayor Weaver, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.
KAREN WEAVER: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: You met with President Obama this week as well as some of his senior advisers. What did you take away from that meeting?
WEAVER: Well, it was a very positive meeting. I was glad to have the president hear firsthand from me what's been going on in the city of Flint for almost two years at this point. People have been crying and begging and asking for clean water. The other thing we talked about is the support that we need to get. And while he has pledged to do everything that he can at the federal level and has, in fact, sent people to Flint to get started on this, one of the things he stressed is that he was going to be meeting with the governor the very next day because the state has such a big roll to play in this. And we know the state has money. They have a rainy day fund, a surplus of between 500 and 600 million, and Flint needs to be the priority for receiving those funds.
SHAPIRO: As we heard, the governor released about 200 pages of emails yesterday. What, if anything, struck you about those messages?
WEAVER: Well, you know, I haven't seen what's in those emails, but I will tell you this. It's something that he needed to do because one of the issues we've been dealing with has been broken trust. And we have been kept in the dark about some information regarding our water. We've been given misinformation about the water. And the only way that the governor can, if he can, rebuild trust is to start doing that. So it's a start for him, I suppose.
SHAPIRO: I want to read to you from one of the emails which was from the governor's chief staff to the governor and others. And this was from late-September. And the chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, writes, the DEQ and the DCH - that's the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Community Health. He says, the DEQ and DCH feel that some in Flint are taking the very sensitive issue of children's exposure to lead and trying to turn it into a political football. He wrote that in September. How do you react?
WEAVER: Muchmore wrote that? You know, and that's been the problem. This has been politics and profit over the lives of people. The health of the people was not put before profit and money. And that's part of the reason we find ourselves in this situation because the other thing I have to bring up is we haven't had a voice in a long, long time in the city of Flint because we've been under emergency manager. But people have been speaking up and crying about this for a long time. So to hear that, it just verifies what we talked about. It was profit over the people.
SHAPIRO: Do you feel like you have a voice now?
SHAPIRO: You're getting shipments of drinking water. You're getting millions of dollars in federal funds. What do you need most at this point?
WEAVER: You know, we need to start addressing some of the other issues now because we need the water. We need the filters, but that's a Band-Aid. But it's a Band-Aid that we're going to continue to need. But the other thing we need to do is start looking at the infrastructure. Even though we've switched back to Lake Huron water through Detroit, those lead service lines are the issue. And how long are we supposed to wait for biofilm to build back up? No one can tell us how long that will take. And we need to be able to drink our water.
SHAPIRO: No one can tell you how long that will take, meaning, you don't know when the city's water will be safe to drink again?
WEAVER: Exactly. And that's why it's still a crisis because we don't know when we'll be able to drink the water.
SHAPIRO: A lot of very high-profile figures have called on Governor Synder to resign. What's your position on this?
WEAVER: You know what? I'm glad those high-profile figures are out there and they're putting the pressure on the governor and holding him accountable for some things. What I've said is, we have an investigation going on, and I can't wait to hear the results of that investigation because everybody that should be held accountable needs to be held accountable. We want to know who knew what and when they knew it. And that's from the governor all the way down to, if it includes, local officials. We want everyone to be held accountable, and if it means they have to be removed, so be it.
SHAPIRO: Flint is a majority black city...
SHAPIRO: ..Where more than 40 percent of people live below the poverty line.
SHAPIRO: Many people have suggest that this would not have happened if it were in a wealthy white suburb of Detroit.
SHAPIRO: How much do you believe race and poverty had to do with the response to this crisis?
WEAVER: I believe that had a lot to do with the response. It also has a lot to do with the emergency manager law that's been put in place because that's where you see emergency managers going into cities that are predominately minority African-American and where they have high poverty levels. Well, you know, I'm not the only person that believes that. That's why the local, state and national NAACP have even stepped up and put out statements regarding this because it's a civil right. Water is a basic human right, and it's being violated right now.
SHAPIRO: I want to ask you whether Flint can recover from this. But in this context, I don't even know. What does recovery mean for Flint?
WEAVER: You know what? It's a terrible thing. No community should ever have to go through what Flint has gone through, but I'm also looking at the possibility of what can come out of this. And I've always believed in Flint. I'm excited about the potential. And you know, we've got to get this fixed. But there's a lot to look forward to in the city of Flint, and you're going to have me back because I'm going to be telling the second part of this story.
SHAPIRO: The victory lap.
WEAVER: That's right.
SHAPIRO: When's that going to be?
WEAVER: Well, you know what? I can't tell you such and such a time. But we continue to keep getting things going our way. We're some very strong, resilient fighters in the city of Flint. So every day, more and more things continue to go our way.
SHAPIRO: Mayor Karen Weaver, thank you very much.
WEAVER: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: That's Karen Waver, the mayor of Flint, Mich. She joined us here in studio while she's in town for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.