Flint–The Poison of Politics

flintPrior to the environmental fiasco in Flint, I would never have imagined the likelihood that an elected official would make a budget decision that would poison an entire city. It is unimaginable, yet here we are. For those unfamiliar with the widely publicized story, a brief summary is offered.

In 2011 when many cities had still not recovered from the 2008 economic recession, the financially strapped city of Flint was taken over by the state. Then Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, retained emergency managers to cut costs and manage the struggling city.

Two years later, it was decided that Flint should break away from the Detroit water system that pulled water from Lake Heron and join a new water district. In April 2014, Flint switched its water system and started drawing water from the Flint River. There are lead pipes throughout the system and in older homes with copper water pipes that were held together with lead solder, the lead corroded the water. The World Health Organization has said that lead poisoning can cause adverse neurological effects.

The problem is now headline news as reports of sick school children who now have lead poisoning, state EPA officials have resigned, truck loads of donated water arrive in Flint everyday and both the state and federal government officials have declared a state of emergency for the city.

I wish this was just about a bad budget decision, but the cries of environmental racism can’t be overlooked. And not just from political candidates hammering for sound bites. New York Times columnist, Charles Blow wrote,”An entire American city exposed to poisoned water. How could this be? It is hard to imagine this happening in a city that didn’t have Flint’s demographic profile — mostly black and disproportionately poor.”

If not racist it is clearly unjust, unfair, and unacceptable.

Halftime in America

The silly season of politics has already begun. According to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, he deserves “a lot of credit” for the recent successes of General Motors and Chrysler. What? Is this the same Mitt Romney who in 2008 wrote in the New York Times that if GM and Chrysler get the taxpayer bailout they want “you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye”?

We are used to political candidates and their campaigns saying anything to get elected, but this is a stretch by any standard.

As a political media junkie, this fib told by Romney reminded me of the Chrysler commercial aired during the Super Bowl called “Halftime in America”. You can watch it below. Officially, this is a commercial from the car company, but I think it is one of the greatest political commercials of our time.

One more thing, General Motors posted record profits last year. Thanks to President Obama and a host of other people not named Mitt Romney.

Will NBA All-Star Dave Bing Score Big Again?

During the start of this NFL season I cheered for theDetroit Lions, I think the team is well overdue for a winning season. And theEminem Chrysler Super Bowl commercial that asks, “What does a town that’s beento hell and back know about luxury?” makes me want to drive to Detroit. Thereis something about the underdog, the unexpected champion that continues to makeme root for Detroitduring yet another challenging time in this urban city’s history.

Last night in a live broadcast the mayor of Detroit, DaveBing the former Detroit Piston NBA All Star player and business executive had afrank and difficult message for the residents of his city. If the city did notact swiftly to address the pending financial crisis, they would be out of moneyby April with an estimated $45 million shortfall in June and an emergencyfinancial manager would be appointed to lead them out of the disaster.
“Simply put, our city is in a financial crisis and citygovernment is broken. That’s not new. That’s not an opinion. That is a fact. Ipromised when I ran for this office that I’d tell you the truth, even when itwasn’t pretty or popular. The reality we’re facing is simple. If we continuedown the same path, we will lose the ability to control our own destiny,” saidBing during his 25-minute speech.

Bing has shown incredible leadership that seems to be drivenby a sense of responsibility and ownership rather than political expediency. Idoubt any elected official would want to be in his shoes right now, but heshould be given enormous credit for his straightforward approach to theoverwhelming crisis. The city’s financial woes cannot be attributed to anyspecific one factor considering the current economic recession. Reports indicatethat between 2000 and 2010, a quarter-million people moved out of the city. Detroit unemploymentfigures have been as high as 28 percent and recent visitors to the city note anabundance of abandoned buildings and neighborhoods.

Bing is offering solutions that will be hard to accept giventhe sacrifices city employees and residents have already made. He is proposing
• a 10% salary cut for the police and fire unions whosebudgets are almost 60% of the city’s overall budget
• An across-the-board 10% pay cut for other employees
• A 10% increase in employee contributions to their healthcare coverage
• Pension reforms, including reducing excess payouts.
• A reduction of overtime costs and other operationalchanges
• A less than 1 percent tax increase on Detroit-basedcorporations
“Given our fiscal crisis, spending money to fix lights, getthe buses running and maintaining public safety requires sacrifice in otherareas,” he said. “We have to make choices and there is no way to avoid thatreality. If we don’t, we know the risk. None of us want financial decisionsbeing made by a state-appointed emergency manager. Avoiding that fate meanssupporting change and sacrifice that won’t be easy.”
As the former governor of North Carolina, Jim Hunt once said, “ Leaderscan inspire cities and cities can inspire leaders.” The recovery of America dependsin part on the economic recovery of its urban centers where most Americans workand live. So I am rooting for Detroitbecause I think Dave Bing might just be the leader who can inspire that city.
Beverly Isom