This story is a part of a weekly series in which Flint Beat explores the issues and concerns of resident in each ward, as well as each council candidate, leading up to the Aug. 3 primary. For more election coverage, including other stories in this series, visit our elections page.
Flint, MI– Flint’s sixth ward residents are guaranteed to have a new councilperson this coming council election.
Councilman Herbert Winfrey is not running for re-election, and there are four candidates on the ballot for the position.
The sixth ward is located on the west side of the city, and covers the least amount of land of all the wards, at 2.2 square miles. Within that small area, the ward is home to Mott Park, the majority of Kettering University, and McLaren Hospital.
According to a research study from the University of Michigan-Flint, in 2017, the sixth ward had a population of approximately 10,900 people. Of that population, 62% were Black, 33% were white, and 3% were Hispanic.
The report showed that the median household income for the ward in 2017 was $26,000, with 43% of the population living in poverty.
According to the Flint Property Portal, the majority of properties in this ward are in “good” and “fair” condition. There are 2,838 properties listed as “good,” 975 listed as “fair,” 205 listed as “poor,” and 83 listed as “sub-standard.” There have been 549 demolitions in this ward, and the Land Bank has 88 more listed for demolition, four of which are funded.
Sixth ward residents say they want their councilperson to have a clear plan to address blight, crime, that doesn’t involve blaming others. They’re looking for solutions and unity.
Dealing with blight and crime
Margaret Clegg has lived in the sixth ward for nearly 15 years. She said many of her neighbors have tried to get the city council to push for blighted apartment buildings in the ward to be taken down, to no avail.
“I would like something to be done about Sunset Village, I’d like something to be done about the apartments on Ballenger across from Communities First. That needs to be torn down. And that landlord … they’re done with chances and needs to go,” she said. “It’s a blight to the community, and I’m sure if it was gone, we could have better investment which could possibly raise property value, not to mention safety. I mean you’ve got kids in these neighborhoods. It doesn’t belong there.”
Calvin McQueen, 63, has resided in the sixth ward since 2008. He said he would like to see better enforcement against blight in neighborhoods, like tagging garbage and furniture left outside so it can be picked up and taken care of.
Both Clegg and McQueen said that they want actual solutions to these issues.
“Everybody’s barking at each other instead of solving a problem,” McQueen said. “I promise you one must listen. That’s not communication.”
Clegg said she hears political leaders talk about blight and crime all the time, but it’s usually accompanied by pointing fingers at others. She’s tired of that.
“Don’t beat around the bush, we’ve been through that with tons of politicians. Just do the job that you’re hired to do,” she said. “I need to see a candidate that, instead of saying, ‘Oh, this is awful,’ and pointing fingers and blaming people, like, how are you going to be part of the solution? How would you encourage all of us to be part of the solution?”
Each candidate running for the sixth ward has some different ideas.
Claudia Perkins-Milton said she would like to see the city hire more police officers, and work to keep them around.
“We need to be putting more money into the police force, you know, get more police on the street, and I think that when we hire them, we should make sure there’s a clause in that they have to remain in this community for x amount of years,” Perkins-Milton said. “Because we’ve done a lot of training in the past, and they just got the training and then up and gone. You know, so we got to protect Flint at all costs.”
Perkins-Milton is a lifelong Flint resident, and a resident of the sixth ward for about twelve years. She’s served on several boards including the Ombudsman’s Advisory Board, the YWCA of Flint, and is the executive director for the Democracy Defense League.
She’s been to Washington more times than she can count, and has been on the forefront of protests about the Flint Water Crisis, the water crisis settlement, the GISD, and more.
Her vision for the sixth ward includes more home ownership, fewer apartments, and more businesses and activities for children.
“I remember how the city used to be when I was a kid growing up. We had businesses all over the place, we had activities,” Perkins-Milton said. “But children don’t have a thing to look forward to. We used to have a Flint amusement park, we used to have movie theaters on the north end, we used to have bowling alleys, skating rinks, libraries, all of those things are gone. And that’s why the children have nothing to do but play with guns and kill each other.”
But before focusing on economic development, Perkins-Milton said the city needs to get blight and crime under control.
Tonya Burns attributes some of the blight and crime in the community to a shift in values, and a lack of pride and ownership in the community.
“We have young people who are trigger happy and don’t mind taking a life,” she said. “We have young women fighting.”
Burns was born and raised in Flint. She’s a business owner, a mother of three, and has been especially active in politics ever since she had a major surgery related to a health issue that developed during the water crisis. She participated in protests, ran for council, the 34th district, and tried to run for mayor. She also worked for Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s administration for a period of time before being laid off, although she said she was “fired.”
While working for the city, Burns said she saw “poor management,” “dishonesty,” and a “lack of transparency.”
“Every decision was based on personal feelings … vendettas, and retribution, not solutions,” Burns said.
This “poor management,” she said, is what led her to run for council. She said crime is her top priority, followed by blight, economic development, and more homeownership. In the sixth ward, Burns has been especially active in dealing with what has been called “Club Sunoco,” the gas station that has garnered a lot of attention for being a destination for parties, fighting, and crime.
Burns spent time with the owner of the gas station, block club presidents, and police, to come up with possible solutions. She said that as a result, security cameras have been reconnected, and the gas station owner has been monitoring and reporting suspicious gatherings.
She said Sunoco was an example of a lack of enforcement in the city.
“We may as well write these ordinances down and then throw them away, because without enforcement, they’re no good,” Burns said.
Better enforcement of ordinances is important for candidate Chris Del Morone.
“We hear a lot about the drag racing and the speeding and things like that, so one of my ideas would be for the city of Flint to hire at least three additional police officers and basically all they do is patrol the streets,” he said.
Del Morone said he would like to see more cars pulled over, even for minor violations. He said that while it’s at the discretion of the officers for whether or not to write a ticket, pulling vehicles over can lead to the discovery of more severe crimes.
“When you pull these vehicles over that are without headlights or whatever, that’s when you start finding the guns, the illegal guns, the drugs, open intoxicants in the car, expired plates, licenses, outstanding warrants,” he said. “And that sends a message to the crime community, that if you’re going to be in Flint, trying to do something bad, you’re apt to get pulled over in your vehicle for the smallest of things.”
He said he thinks this would deter crime, and send a message that crime is not acceptable and not going to be a norm in this community.
Del Morone is a graduate of University of Michigan, and has his bachelor’s in business administration. Since retiring from General Motors, he has been active and involved in local government. He’s the chairperson for the City of Flint’s Board of Review, and the Genesee County Land Bank Citizens Advisory Council, and said he has served on many other committees as well. Over the years, he has volunteered with the City Clerk’s office during elections, counting absentee ballots and working polling sites.
Blight is another issue in the sixth ward for Del Morone, but he said that part of the problem has to do with how residents treat themselves and their neighbors, like how they park their cars, or when they put their trash out.
“I think we all play a role, and we all can do better in one way or another,” he said.
For Terae King Jr, building that sense of community is the first step to dealing with blight and crime.
“In my area when I ride around, you have blight and crime, we all know this is a major thing all around the city, but I think we need to reinforce this sense of community,” King said. “We can talk about the major issues, but a community is what it accepts. And I believe, basically, if we band together, block clubs and neighbors, getting involved, giving them resources, the community will become stronger together.”
At 19 years old, King is the youngest candidate running for the sixth ward councilperson seat. He is a junior at the University of Michigan-Flint majoring in political science. He’s lived in the sixth ward with his mother, who is a single parent, and his two siblings for the last ten years.
Since King was 13 years old, he said he was involved in his community cutting grass and helping maintain yards in the neighborhood with the block club. He’s always wanted to be involved in politics, and decided to run for office after meeting with the current councilman and learning about the job.
“So if we just change the narrative, say we want better, and band together, that’s how we can solve blight, crime and other problems,” King said.
Ward-specific issues aside, residents of the sixth ward say they would like to see a councilperson that encourages unity and works with other members of the council.
Clegg said she used to be more involved with local politics, attending various meetings, but it’s become harder for her to want to participate because of the fighting. She said there is a growing apathy in the community, that she would like the next councilperson to address.
“Everybody is always so negative, and they always complain about one thing, or the other. It’s never about people coming together to help try to solve anything,” Clegg said. “So I quit going to that group a long time ago, I haven’t gone to a City Hall meeting in years. Sometimes just trying to live on your own street and take care of your neighbors is about all you can do around here.”
In order for the community to come together, and be more positive, she said the council needs to serve as an example.
“We need somebody who’s going to try to unite people. The whole city council has to try to unite people because we’re not going to get anything done in the city,” she said.
All four candidates believe they have something to offer in this department.
Perkins-Milton refers to herself as a “top negotiator.”
She said as a city councilperson, she would be led by the city’s charter first and foremost, but would try to work collaboratively with the council and the administration. She said she would also like to allot a certain amount of time for residents to speak with her directly in an office about their concerns, in addition to attending various neighborhood meetings.
When it comes to the council meetings, she said she would put the city business above the drama.
“I am not there to debate on who’s racist and who’s not. I am so sick of that crap,” Perkins-Milton said. “You need to get to the business of the citizens of Flint. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s not a debate on who’s on whose side, it’s about the problems that are brought to the board for the citizens of Flint, and we need to address those. Anything past that is null and void, as far as I’m concerned.”
Del Morone ran for a Michigan senate seat in 2013, and for mayor of Flint in 2017. Now, he’s running for council because he said he feels there is a “lack of leadership.”
“Every year, council elects the president of the council, and I never hear any mention of, well, ‘This is the goal for the next year, this is something we want to try to attain,’” he said. “And it just seems like council is wavering as to what they can do or should be doing. There’s been much fighting within council, and it does not serve the community, the residents, the constituents at all.”
As a councilperson, Del Morone said he views some of his biggest responsibilities as taking care of the budget, and attending every single meeting and staying for the entire thing.
“One of the biggest differences between a councilperson and a constituent is that while they both have a voice, the councilperson has the vote of nine,” he said. “So that’s very important that one is there at the meetings, and I think I’ve displayed that over the years, because I’ve been there, and I actually don’t have to be, but I want to be and I enjoy it.”
As a regular attendee at the council meetings, he’s seen how long they can go, and how much fighting the council can get into. He said that his experience as a chairperson for various other meetings would be an asset to the council.
“You have meetings that last 10, 11, 12 hours, and go until three o’clock in the morning. No meeting should last that long. You know, I chair a lot of meetings, and we just move on, take care of business,” he said. “The meetings I chair are not as involved as you know, as city council meetings, the amount of money and stuff like that, but the bickering and fighting over the years … there’s just been so much waste on this council.”
Burns said that she’s worked and dealt with individual council members separately and has been able to get along well.
“We miss the mark when we judge someone from the surface,” she said. “The best way to get to known someone is to invite them into your home and have a meal.”
Burns said her responsibilities as councilperson would be to represent the needs of the sixth ward residents first. She said her responsibilities would also be to move the city forward, and make Flint a better place.
She said her vision for what that better place could like would be more diversity, understanding of one another, jobs, neighborhood stabilization, and better schools but also simpler things.
“I want people to be able to leave their windows open at night, and hear kids riding their bikes, and the sound of laughter and nature,” she said.
Another part of moving the city forward, for Burns, is bringing in new businesses, and making it an attractive city for businesses to want to come to. She said she conducted a focus group with businesses about what was keeping them from wanting to bring their business to Flint, and the number one problem was not blight or crime. It was the city council.
“It’s like a train wreck, and we need to change the culture, and challenge other wards to be better,” Burns said. “We need to work toward a common good.”
King said he believes the issue with the council is a lack of respect.
“I’m going to go in and respect every member of council, regardless of personal feelings or anything else, because we all have a job to do,” King said.
He said while he can’t promise the rest of council would follow suit, he would focus on maintaining his integrity, and not being combative.
“We all know that our council is in disarray and dysfunctional. I’m not going to say that when I come, I’m going to change the whole course of the council. I only can maintain me,” he said. “I can just make the promise about me and my character. I am a person of integrity, selfless leadership, and my character is that.”
As a councilperson, King said he would like to see the term “public servant” be reestablished.
“I want to make sure people are served the same way, I want to be served. If I’m serving the community, I’m a public servant,” he said. “That’s what I want to do is serve the community, and I’m ready to learn, listen, and legislate. That’s something that needs to be vital in our council people, listening to constituents and learning from them. … The better you will be able to legislate.”