Hillary Clinton took a break over the weekend from stumping for support in New Hampshire to bring her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination to Flint, where the city faces a public health crisis due to lead in the drinking water.
Clinton’s visit capped an hours-long church revival meeting filled with songs, sermons, and a pastor with a sense of humor as he noted the packed seats at the House of Prayer Missionary Baptist Church. “I got a question: Where y’all been?” asked Elder Kenneth Stewart to peals of laughter from the congregation. Stewart says Flint has suffered as the result of a state government blunder that caused lead to leach into the drinking water in homes and schools. The EPA knew about it, but failed to warn residents. 18 months went by before any official acknowledgement there was a problem.
The extents of the harm is still not clear, but many children in the city have shown elevated lead levels in blood tests. Stewart says now, though, the city is benefiting from all the attention. “We need you, God, in a miraculous way,” he prayed. “And thank you to God for the hearts of those that you are touching in effort to make life better in the city of Flint."
Clinton took the stage to the cheers of the congregation, and said the people in this poverty-stricken, mostly African-American city have been let down by their government. “What happened in Flint is immoral,” she said. “The children of Flint are just as precious as the children in any part of America.”
Clinton’s visit was ostensibly to pressure the US Senate to adopt a budget amendment that would send hundreds of millions to Flint. But she also said reinvesting in cities has to become a national priority. “Yes, this is a problem that affects Flint,” she said. “But I daresay there are other communities with similar problems. This is not the only place where children are being harmed by what they breathe and what they drink.
Ondante Lott was in the audience. He says the focus on helping cities like Flint is long overdue. He’s skeptical of many of the promises that are being made, but he says the attention is welcome. “That’s all I can do is hope. I can’t say I trust nothing. All I can say is I hope it works out for the best and, right now, it’s working toward that.”
Clinton promised to return to Flint. Michigan’s presidential primary is a month away. Republicans dismissed Clinton’s visit as a stunt. "Families and residents in Flint deserve better than being used as political pawns by a Presidential candidate,” Michigan Republican Chairman Ronna Romney McDaniel said in a statement. “This visit is not an act of benevolence; it is a calculated campaign tactic - an attempt to grab headlines by a struggling campaign.”
If there was any doubt Flint has become emblematic of the ills plaguing urban America, and that it has become a central issue in the race for the presidency, it’s worth noting that Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders, has opened a campaign headquarters in Flint.