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Flint mayoral race may turn on who voters believe can deal with the city's crime problem

Flint voters will elect a mayor November 8th. In a city beset by high unemployment and questions about how city hall’s being run, crime is a central issue.   

At a recent meeting at the Flint YWCA, about two dozen people met to discuss crime prevention. Dave Beardslee was one of the people at the meeting. He said, right now, leadership is Flint’s main problem.   

“I think they could do something…they could pull the jacket off…roll up their sleeves and get out there with the rest of us. Be a leader. That’s what we need is true leadership," Beardslee said.    

November 8th, Flint voters will elect a person to lead their city.  

For the past two years, that’s been Dayne Walling’sjob. He won a special election to replace former mayor Don Williamson, who resigned just ahead of a recall election. Now Walling is seeking a full four-year term. 

Walling’s been at the helm as the city’s budget problems have led to deep cuts in public safety. Two years ago, Flint had 165 police officers.   Now it has 125.   

Many blame those cuts to the city’s police department for the rise of violent crime in Flint. Flint set a new record for murders last year and topped the FBI’s recent violent crime rankings. Mayor Walling says he’s working to use what resources the city has to reduce its ‘worst in the nation’ violent crime rate.    

My goal…Chief’s (Alvern Lock) goal…continues to be a reduction in all categories of crime, in every part of the city. That’s going to take law enforcement partnerships. It’s going to take community involvement. It’s going to take new technology. And, its going to take some expanded economic opportunity," said Walling.   

"What business will relocate in an area that’s known as a murder, rape and assault capitol?" questioned Darryl Buchanan.   He’s running against Walling in November’s general election.  

Buchanan says Walling’s inexperience has contributed to the city’s crime problem. Buchanan says if he’s elected mayor he’ll move higher ranking police officers out from behind desks and on to the streets to deal with crime.  

“You have sergeants, lieutenants and captains in the station. Put them back on the streets…they’re sworn police officers. And I know some that already go back on the street on their own. Just make it a policy that instead of staying in the station they go out on patrol," said Buchanan.   

Buchanan says until Flint deals with its crime problem any efforts aimed at bringing desperately needed jobs to the city will not work.  

Buchanan is a former Flint city council president and former city administrator. Because Buchanan was the chief aide to former Mayor Don Williamson, current mayor Dayne Walling says Darryl Buchanan bears some responsibility for the mess that Flint’s in now.    

"That was an administration that couldn’t balance an $80 million dollar budget," said Walling, "We’ve been able to fix funds and bring spending in line with a $52 million general fund.”    

Buchanan said Walling is overreaching by trying to tie him to some of the damaging decisions made by former mayor Don Williamson. Buchanan said as city administrator under Williamson, he could only advise the former mayor and he shouldn’t be held responsible for the decisions that cost the city millions of dollars.   

He also noted that Walling’s administration has also struggled with a rising tide of red ink.

Buchanan conceded finger pointing can go in many directions.   

“There’s enough responsibility to go to everyone to go to everyone who’s been in Flint government since we adopted the city charter.  It’s time for us to stop looking at the past…and start moving Flint forward,"  said Buchanan.   

But moving forward may be a difficult thing to do in Flint. A state panel is reviewing Flint’s city finances. The governor may appoint an emergency manager to deal with the city’s budget problems. That may leave Flint’s elected leaders, including the mayor, with little or no actual power. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.