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Flint's water crisis is in the glare of the national spotlight this weekend

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

With the Democratic Presidential Debate taking place Sunday in Flint, Michigan, the national spotlight is once again focusing on the city’s lead-tainted drinking water.

Some people in Flint are getting tired of being in the glare of the national spotlight.

The whirl of electric clippers mixes with ESPN’s Sports Center on the TV and music from the radio as six men wait for one of two barber chairs to open up in the Consolidated Tattoo and Barbershop in downtown Flint.

Barber Zac Minock is giving a customer a trim.   He says there’s not as much talk in his barbershop about Flint’s drinking water problems these days.  And Minock says his customers are definitely over all the national coverage the city’s been getting.

“Really I feel a lot of people are….just kind of sick of it being so much in the media,” says Minock, “It’s kind of  beating a dead horse at this point.”

People in Flint have been dealing with undrinkable tap water for nearly two years.  

The city’s drinking water source was switched to the Flint River to save money.  But the water was not properly treated, leading to a series of problems including e coli outbreaks. 

Last year’s discovery of lead leaching into the drinking water elevated Flint’s water woes from a local crisis to a national issue.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will hold their next presidential debate here on Sunday.  And it’s why two dozen members of Congress, all Democrats, were in town today, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“What is happening in Flint challenges the conscience of our nation,” Pelosi told reporters after meeting with Flint residents, “This is a tragedy of such magnitude because it breaks the bond that people have with the government….to be there on issues like the safety of the water our children drink…the air they breathe…the safety of their food.”

Republicans charge Democrats are more interested in politicizing what’s happening in Flint.

Ronna Romney McDaniel is the chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party.   She’s also the niece of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Romney McDaniel singles out Democrat Hillary Clinton who is running ads in Michigan on the Flint water crisis.

“This is something where everybody in Michigan needs to be involved in the solution.   Republicans and Democrats.  We need to shed party labels and come together,” Romney McDaniel told Michigan Radio in late February.  But referring to Hillary Clinton, Romney McDaniel says “She’s used it in a calculated political manner.”

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver appeared in that Hillary Clinton campaign ad on Flint water.

Despite the complaints by some, the mayor says she doesn’t mind the national attention.

“We wouldn’t be the topic of at least the Democratic debate,” Weaver says, “I’m glad we got the national attention.  We knew that was the only way we were going to start getting some money coming in to Flint and having a louder voice for Flint.”

The national attention isn’t all good.

Janice Karcher is with the Flint/Genesee County Chamber of Commerce.   At a small business recruitment conference today, she admitted the media coverage is making it harder to attract new businesses.

“It impacts how people think about their business prospects and even about their employment prospects,” says Karcher, “It’s really important that the community continue to work on solutions to the water situation.”

With that in mind, Mayor Weaver hopes the national spotlight sticks around.

“Stay tuned,” Weaver told a room full of local, state and national news media, “I want all of you back when we have part two to this story.   Because we have to…we have to make something good happen out of this.”

The Flint water crisis came up briefly in last night’s Republican presidential debate. It’s expected to be featured more prominently in Sunday’s Democratic showdown. 

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.
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