News Politics

Flint Mayor Survives Recall Election Amid Trash and Water Contract Scandals

Auditi Guha

Karen Weaver beat 17 candidates after her support in Flint fell as City Council members accused her of corruption and incompetence.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver won Tuesday’s recall election in a landslide despite simmering dissatisfaction over the city’s continued water crisis, which drew 17 challengers to the ballot.

Ushered in two years ago to fix the public health crisis that led to elevated lead levels in children and caused Legionnaires’ disease, Weaver became the city’s first woman mayor, beating out then-incumbent Dayne Walling and promising to be mayor “for all of Flint.”

She declared a state of emergency and publicized the water problem nationwide last year. But her support fell as the City Council accused her of corruption and incompetence, the New York Times reported.

Despite opposition and eroding public trust, Weaver secured nearly 53 percent of the vote Tuesday over longtime City Councilman Scott Kincaid, who received 32 percent.

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“I think it’s a sad day for Flint. The fact that in a court of law it was proven that that police force were used for intimidation of residents for Weaver and bribery was attempted by Weaver’s people and somehow she is still mayor is inconceivable,” water crisis whistleblower LeeAnne Walters told Rewire

A Black woman and a newcomer to politics, Weaver challenged the recall effort but dropped the lawsuit after she was accused of police influence and bribery.

Flint resident Janice Berryman told Rewire that she voted for Weaver two years ago but regrets it because “she has shown that she doesn’t care for the people of Flint.” Berryman said she called Weaver several times about the water crisis and a problematic trash contract. Berryman never heard back.

Berryman cited longstanding unresolved environmental and corruption issues in the city—“the worst that I have ever seen,” she said. “I’m very, very upset as a person who has lived here a lifetime and has faced health issues attributed to the water that we had to even face this.”

A lifelong Flint voter at age 72, Berryman said she voted via absentee ballot for Arthur Woodson, a water crisis activist and recall organizer, who she feels “truly cares about the people of Flint.”

Woodson secured 2.4 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial Genesee County results.

Water activists told Rewire that Weaver’s close ties to Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who refused to suspend top health department officials criminally charged in the water investigation, does not bode well for the city.

Despite being the poorest city in the nation, Flint’s residents pays the highest water bills. Flint’s nearly 100,000 residents paid, on average, $864 a year for water, nearly double the national average and about three and a half times more than what Detroit residents pay, the Detroit Free Press reported in 2016.

“The fact that Weaver agreed with the water pods being taken away and continues to push for an abusive 30-year contract with GLWA [Great Lakes Water Authority] that will raise our water rates even more means Flint is a real trouble,” Walters said. “Once the GLWA contract is signed there is a lot of money on the table and with the lack of transparency that’s very dangerous, especially in the City of Flint.”

The City Council opposed Weaver on the GLWA contract, but with several members defeated Tuesday, the newly elected council may act differently, Michigan Free Radio reported.

In addition the water contract issue, the recall election was spurred by a controversial garbage contract pushed by Weaver despite City Council opposition. Owners of the former Rizzo Environmental Services in Macomb County have faced a corruption scandal that has led to criminal charges, according to the Detroit Free Press. Despite this, Weaver chose the company for a multi-million-dollar contract. 

“I’ve never supported the recall over garbage,” water activist Melissa Mays told Rewire. “It was a diversion from the water and a political move by people who wanted to run.”

Mays supported Weaver but said it was a toss-up given how many people ran for the spot.

Flint activist Florlisa Stebbins told Rewire she expected Weaver to retain her seat because of the low voter turnout—about 17.4 percent, according to county results.

“This election and recall election for our mayor has significant meaning, and has shown one major theme, city of Flint residents and voters are ready to move forward and we are not afraid to call out our officials any longer when there are significant issues happening in their administration as well as poor decisions making for the people. Our voices are strong,” Stebbins said.

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