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FLINT, MI – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed spoke to members of the Genesee County Democratic Party during their monthly meeting on Thursday, Sep. 14 about what he would do as governor to guide Flint through its ongoing water crisis.
El-Sayed spent much of his time focusing on groups that he feels were disproportionately affected by the state’s current administration, saying that he hopes to work towards a society where everyone has equal opportunities.
“For me, inspiration came in the form of a three-year-old boy. He is the fourth child of a 21-year-old mom, he met his father maybe four times in his life because his dad is in jail. This kid did something very peculiar for a three-year-old. Most of the time when you meet a three-year-old, it usually works something like this: the parent will introduce you to the three-year-old, and then the three-year-old will go and bury their face inside their parents’ arms. This kid didn’t do that. He looked me right in the eye, walked right up to me and gave me a big hug, then walked back to his mother. And I thought about the kind of confidence that a three-year-old has to have to go hug a random person that they’ve never met before. And then I thought about that confidence in contrast to the set of challenges that boy faces in his life,” El-Sayed said. “If this kid makes it through his decrepit underfunded public-school system, his probability of going to jail stays higher than it does of going to college. And I realized that our responsibility in public health and in government has to be about justifying the kind of confidence that any child should have in the life that is unfolding in front of them. Regardless of where they grew up, regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of the circumstances of their parents.”
“If you were to go from Flint to Grand Blanc, you might drive twenty minutes. You would also probably drive about ten years difference in life expectancy. That has nothing to do with differences in biology and everything to do with differences in politics.”
While speaking about his time as the director of the Detroit Health Department, El-Sayed brought up a first of its kind lead testing program that his department piloted.
“We heard about what was unfolding here in Flint, and we realized that we had work in front of us in Detroit. We knew that our kids could be exposed to the same lead that was coming out of the pipes here in Flint in their public schools,” said El-Sayed. “So, we put together a protocol to have every school, daycare, and head start tested for lead in water. We tested 360 schools in six months; every single school. We were the first city nationwide to have all of its schools tested. And today, the protocol that we created in Detroit is now model practice nationwide.”
Attendees at the event, which was held at the UAW Region 1D hall and was moderated by former lieutenant governor John Cherry, also had the opportunity to ask El-Sayed their questions. One attendee, Bobbie Clayton Walton, asked El-Sayed what he would do to give power back to local governments.
“This current administration has sought to balance its books on the backs of its municipalities. And the extreme of that is what happened here in Flint and the whole system of emergency management that created it,” El-Sayed said. “We have to equip people with access to the means of being able to govern at the municipal level. We have to repeal the emergency manager law that has taken control away from people to be able to govern themselves and that has enacted a single individual with no mandate to focus at all on operations but who only is allowed to focus on costs. And under emergency management, we haven’t even seen any better performance when it comes to costs either.
“There’s a responsibility we have to number one insist upon local control, number two rectify the revenue sharing and readjust the formula so that our municipalities get the fair share of the taxes that their citizens pay, and lastly I think there has to be a conversation about what ought to be regional and what ought to be local and what ought to be state. I think the state right now has seen itself as being an effective nanny state for a lot of these municipalities because they created the circumstances within which these municipalities fail. When you talk about Flint, it’s easy to focus on one decision and say when the water source changed, that’s when Flint happened. It happened way before that. It happened when our state bent over backwards to accommodate one industry, and then that industry left and took all the good jobs with it. When that state allowed the circumstances in which we segregated people into certain parts, where the people with means and access were disproportionately white were able to move out and then we left the poorest folks stuck in those cities with bureaucracies meant to serve three times as many people as were there. And then when they couldn’t decommission this bureaucracy fast enough, we blamed them for mismanagement and took over their ability to control their own municipality, and then made horrible decisions that poisoned them. That is deep injustice.”
Ultimately, El-Sayed emphasized a message of unity and engagement to the attendees.
“Today, we have a politics that has been paralyzed by a culture of fear that tells us that we cannot see eye to eye with people who see the world differently than we do. And that government is just another business, and if you run it like a business you’re going to solve all the problems – except for when you poison 9,000 kids in one of the poorest cities in America. I realized that if there is a chance for us, it is going to be because we are able to unite across the differences we are told we cannot bridge; regional differences, racial differences, religious differences,” El-Sayed remarked. “I do hope that I have said some things that will inspire you to learn more about the movement we are building and become a part of it. But even if I said some things that just made you think ‘I hate that guy and I hope he never wins,’ I still hope that you’ll get involved for another candidate. Why? Because democracy takes work. It takes all of us coming out to places like this to have conversations about the kind of society we want to live in, and then doing the work of creating that society every single day.”