(This is the third of a three-part series capturing Flint Mayor Karen Weaver’s experience being Flint’s first woman mayor. Part one was published on Sunday, Nov. 5 and part two was published on Nov. 6.)
FLINT, MI — Mayor Dr. Karen Weaver survived the recall election on Tuesday, Nov 7, winning by a landslide as she took in more than 50 percent with 7,709 votes while facing 17 other challengers for her seat. One of those who opposed her was long-time Flint City Councilman Scott Kincaid who came in second with 4,671 votes. Weaver speaks candidly with Flintbeat.com reporter, Sherrema Bower, about her opponents, City Councilman Scott Kincaid, the city council, the recall election, and especially, the water crisis and working with Gov. Rick Snyder.
“Those could be my enemies in those seats.”
Mayor Weaver spoke of long-time city Councilman Scott Kincaid who lost both his seat on the council and his bid for mayor against Weaver in the recall election. Kincaid who has voiced his disdain for Weaver’s administration was one of 16 other people who sought to take Weaver’s seat as mayor during a Nov. 7 recall election.
“Scott Kincaid, you had an opportunity to speak up. You’re the senior person. You’ve been there for thirty-two, too-long years and you didn’t say one thing about the water? You said it was psychological, it was in our minds, and [that] you drink this water all the time. That’s the same thing [former Flint Mayor] Dayne Walling said. But you want us to reward you and put you in the seat of the leader.”
Weaver is referring to a Jan. 22, 2011 MLive.com article regarding Flint possibly connecting to the Flint River for its water supply.
In 2014, Flint switched from Detroit water from Lake Huron to using the Flint River as its water source. It was discovered in 2015 that children in Flint had elevated blood lead levels since the water switch, which drew international attention. Prior to these events, there were a number of boil advisory alerts throughout the community and reports of various skin issues.
“Everybody knows brown water is bad. There’s something wrong with brown water, but [Kincaid] didn’t have the balls to say ‘the water’s messed up.’ [Instead] he let this ‘little girl’ come in and clean it up. And now, ‘Oh, it’s pretty shiny now, I think I’ll take that.’ So a woman is good enough to come in and clean up the mess, but after it gets cleaned up, you want it back?”
The decision to change water sources came under state-appointed Emergency Manager, Darnell Early, who along with others are facing charges for their roles in the city’s water crisis. Also while under emergency management, the city underwent a number of departmental cuts, which Weaver and others say have been a challenge as Flint tries to recover from a number of issues including crime, blight and the water crisis.
“You make things up about the police department. You talk about them and you put them down, and you know that the Emergency Manager cut that staff in half,” said Weaver of Kincaid. “You try to crush them…but you want them to protect and serve. You don’t help them get the resources and the equipment that they need to do their jobs. That makes no sense to me.”
Under emergency management, both the mayor and Flint City Council lost power to govern the city leaving all decisions made for Flint in the hands of the state and a state-appointed board, the Receivership Transition Advisory Board, also known as RTAB.
“I fought for home rule, and I know most of City Council hasn’t been with me,” she said. In May 2016, Weaver’s power as mayor was restored by the RTAB.
Weaver says that she believes the reticence of this city council is due to Scott Kincaid, who has openly opposed her from the start of her administration and who leads the council as the longest sitting member. She also believes it is due to council members having been part of the previous administration under Dayne Walling, who at that time, did not speak up about the Emergency Manager, or the unfolding water crisis.
Still, Weaver said that she has spoken to former mayors of Flint, and they too “said that they have had this kind of tug-of-war with [the] council.” She acknowledged that she has received support from Council members Eric Mays, Herbert Winfrey, and Monica Galloway who managed to keep their seats during the Nov. 7 elections where all nine city council seats were up for reelection.
Incumbents Mays, Kate Fields, Winfrey and Galloway kept their seats in the first, fourth, sixth and seventh wards. Newcomers Maurice Davis, Jerri Winfrey-Carter, Santino Guerra, Allan Griggs and Eva Worthing will replace incumbents Jackie Poplar, Kerry Nelson, Wantwaz Davis, Vickie VanBuren and Kincaid in wards two, three, five, six and nine. VanBuren lost the Flint City Council primary race in May and was not on the ballot for Nov. 7 elections.
Every city council incumbent that publically supported Kincaid lost their seat except for Fields.
“I know six of you don’t like me for sure,” Weaver said of the former council. “But we believe in home rule here, and that’s what we should have. That’s how I’ve made my decisions. They’ve chosen to use home rule against me and not put anything forward [that] I send up. What has that got to do with the betterment of the city of Flint and the people? When somebody says, ‘We don’t want to vote on a water source because it will make the mayor look good,’ instead of taking on the public health concerns of a city, that’s targeted specifically to me.”
The new council will be sworn in at noon on Nov. 13 in the Flint City Council Chambers.
“It’s embarrassing because I go across the state and across the country, and everybody’s watching and they [say], ‘What’s going on in that council?’ They cannot believe what is happening in the City of Flint,” Weaver said. “And it’s been so personal. That’s what’s been the worst part about this. Instead of, “What’s in the best interests of the people?’ [It’s] ‘I don’t like her.’ I don’t care if you like me or not. I may not like you either, but you still make the decision that’s in the best interest of the people. That’s what we were elected to do.”
“But so be it.”
Weaver said that she attributes the latest mayoral recall to previous city administrators who wanted “a different form of government.”
“We have a strong mayor form of government, and I believe that they wanted Flint to have a county-wide form of government, metropolitan.” She cited the selling off of assets, including the water pipeline, garbage trucks, lawn mowing equipment, and “outsourcing the 911 system.”
“So when you see all that going to the county, it was to change the structure of Flint. And I come in and say, ‘hey, wait a minute, no, no.’
I think that if I had been a different kind of mayor that would go along with what had been in place, this wouldn’t be happening. But so be it. When you upset plans that were already in place, they don’t want you there.”
“It should have never happened.”
Concerning the water crisis, Weaver said that her expertise as a licensed clinical psychologist gave her a platform from which to speak during her press conference on Sept 8, 2015, when news of Flint’s leaded water was just breaking. She spoke of the children and pregnant mothers who had been drinking the water and called to task City administrators for standing by and doing nothing for Flint residents.
“I felt like I had a moral and an ethical responsibility to speak out,” she said. “And I really couldn’t get support from anybody because most of them said I was politicizing this.”
“I’ve always talked about race and class,” she said thoughtfully. “If Flint were a different city without high unemployment, or was not predominantly African-American or working class, the water crisis either never would have happened, or had it happened, it would have been addressed much quicker. We wouldn’t have had to scrap and claw and fight for the dollars that we’ve gotten because they would have said, ‘We’re fixing this.’”
Weaver spoke of the gladness she felt when Dr. Marc Edwards, followed by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha first made their respective announcements in Sept. 2015, that Flint’s water supply was laced with lead. “Thank God somebody had been tracking this. We knew which kids…and we knew what we needed to start doing. I have firsthand knowledge about lead just by being a mental health provider and working with families, trying to set up services, and making sure they have what they need.”
“This is tough,” she said, “but it’s been worth it. It should have never happened, but look at everything we’ve gotten for Flint – I think that Flint has benefited. And that’s why it’s so important that we stay in the limelight [and] in the news. Because everybody’s watching and we know that Flint is not the only Flint. We know that we have an aging infrastructure throughout this entire country. We know that we have water issues across the country, and people need to pay attention to Flint and learn from Flint. Speak up, and never let it happen again. They need to see how we’re coming back, even though we face these challenges. We’re a strong city, we’re strong people and we’re resilient.”
“We had to figure out a way to work with them.”
Weaver spoke of having to find a way to work with Gov. Rick Snyder and others from his administration, in spite of irrefutable evidence that his office bore a great deal of blame – in ways both direct and indirect – for the water crisis.
“We did find a way to build a relationship and work with the state because that’s what we had to do,” Weaver said. “How do we work with these people that we’re just so angry with? But we have to [in order] to move Flint forward.
I took criticism for that. [I was asked,] ‘How do you work with the governor of this state?’ Who else am I going to work with? They’re still holding office and they have the positions [with] the resources we need. While we still haven’t gotten everything we deserve – we may never get everything we deserve because we didn’t deserve what happened – we have fought so hard and tirelessly to get everything that we can for the people of Flint. So we’re proud of that and I’m proud of it.”
Weaver said that it was difficult to begin her administration with almost no people of her own, but with people who had all been appointed by the governor.
“And they were reporting every move I made back to the state,” she said.
Although she has now been able to put several of her own people in prominent positions, she said that the level of surveillance hasn’t changed. “Somebody’s recording everything I’m doing. Somehow, someone must be fascinated. – ‘Let me watch every single step and move Karen Weaver makes, so we can go back and tell’ whoever they need to tell.”
Her voice grew quiet, “But it happens still.”
Weaver’s administration has been handed a number of challenges, including a city in the throes of an economic depression, a water crisis, and dealing with the sobering factors of poverty, blight and crime, as well as a plunging population and tax base. Yet Weaver sees opportunity where others see challenges or even hopelessness. She again made history on Nov. 7 when the recall election placed her back in the mayor’s seat.
Given that every Flint mayor of the 21st century has had recall attempts by residents, Weaver was the first to manage to overcome the skepticism and pressures and maintain her position as Flint’s leader. When I mentioned this, she simply smiled and said, “Sometimes, it just takes a woman.”
(Dr. Sherrema Bower is an anthropologist of religion and gender, whose scholarship focuses on the social and gendered experiences of women leaders situated in patriarchal institutions.)