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Race for Flint mayor enters the final 3 weeks

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

If it wasn’t for the yard signs sprinkled around town, you might not know that Flint is electing a mayor next month.   

It’s been a low-key campaign between incumbent Karen Weaver and state representative Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint).   

However, the quiet nature of the campaign may change this week. Weaver and Neeley will meet in their only debate this Thursday, where the two may exchange barbs publicly that until now have only been said in private. 

Elected in 2015 and surviving a recall election in 2017, Karen Weaver led Flint through its water crisis.  Since 2016, the mayor says her administration has made significant progress upgrading the city’s water system and replacing lead service lines.   

If she wins a second term, Karen Weaver says she’ll focus on addressing lingering issues from the water crisis, including securing funding to replace damaged pipes and fixtures in people’s homes. She also plans to focus on the needs of Flint’s neighborhoods and public safety. 

Weaver smiles when asked about her challenger saying he should lead the city going forward.

“It’s interesting that you’re going to let a woman come in and clean up the table and you want to come in and be the head of it,” says Weaver.

But the mayor’s challenger says she is taking is too much credit for what happened after the water crisis.

“Part of her failing is that she has tried to take credit for everything. But doesn’t take responsibility for anything,” says Neeley.

He also suggests the mayor’s administration is using the city’s water crisis for political gain.

“They continue to live off the tragedy of water and monetize that for their own benefit,” says Neeley, “They don’t want the suffering to stop in this community.”

Neeley is a term limited state representative and a former Flint city councilman. He served on the council during the years that the city descended into a financial crisis that led to the governor appointing an emergency manager, who made decisions that created Flint’s water crisis. Neeley sidesteps responsibility for Flint’s financial problems, instead blaming major cuts in state revenue sharing for Flint’s financial emergency. 

Neeley says Flint is once again “heading toward a brick wall” in its finances. He says, if elected, he’ll implement cost recovery programs, which he says will mean more people paying less money in taxes rather than relying on fewer people paying more.

He says the five points of his campaign are: residential, recreation, economics, education and public safety. 

Neeley also says he’ll institute a forensic audit of the city’s books. He points to questions raised by some about how the Weaver administration has handled the millions of dollars that flowed into the city during the water crisis.  

Weaver rejects allegations her administration has not handled money properly.  

“We’re not perfect.  And we don’t try to act like we are. But we’ve really played a bad hand well and done a great job,” says Weaver.  

Paul Rozycki is a retired Mott Community College political science professor and a long-time observer of Flint politics. He says, compared to past mayor’s races in Flint, this one has been relatively low-key. As a result, Rozicki expects a low turnout in next month’s election. 

“If we hit 20% (turnout), I’ll be surprised,” says Rozycki, “And I think the key is who can turnout their base voters.”

There is also another factor that may affect turnout. This is the first time in Flint’s history that two African-American candidates have faced off in the general election for mayor.   

Due to a change in the Flint city charter, the next mayor will serve only a three year term. The change was made to sync up Flint’s mayor’s election with that of Michigan’s governor. In 2022, Flint’s mayors will resume serving four year terms. 

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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