Hillary Clinton promised the people of Flint, Michigan, whose lives have been turned upside down by the city’s ongoing water crisis, that she will be their partner in what is sure to be a long recovery.
Speaking from the pulpit at House of Prayer Memorial Baptist Church on Sunday, Clinton told a largely African-American audience that what has happened in Flint, where untreated water has been contaminated with lead, is not just an environmental crisis, but one deeply imbued with race.
“This is not merely unacceptable or wrong, though it is both, what happened in Flint is immoral,” Clinton said.
“This has to be a national priority, not just for today or tomorrow. Clean water is not optional, my friends, it is not a luxury. As I said weeks ago, if what had been happening in Flint had happened in Grosse Point or Bloomfield Hills, I think we all know we would have had a solution yesterday,” Clinton added, referencing two wealthy, largely white Detroit suburbs.
Clinton came to Flint on Sunday, taking a break from campaigning in New Hampshire days before the state’s critical primary on Tuesday, to stress the need to urge the Republican controlled Senate to approve the Senate Democrats’ $600 million amendment to help Flint.
There are also politics at play for the trip: Clinton’s appearance in a majority African-American city will resonate in early voting states like South Carolina and Nevada, where minority voters make up large portion of the electorate.
In New Hampshire, Clinton is trailing Bernie Sanders by 22 percentage points, according to Sunday’s CNN/WMUR tracking poll.
“This to me a personal commitment,” Clinton said. “I will stand with you every step of the way. I will not for one minute forget about you or forget about your children, I will do everything I can to help you get back up, to get your strength and resilience flowing through this community again because what happened here should never have happened anywhere.”
Clinton’s speech was well received. At different points, attendees shouted “President Hillary” or “Madame President.” When she closed, a woman stood and yelled, “It’s your time Hillary.”
After the event, Clinton was swarmed with people, some of whom shared stories about the constant struggle of filtering their water and dealing with possible lead poisoning.
Clinton met with mothers impacted by the contaminated water before the event and pledged to the mayor and pastors form the church that she will “not let the light dim” on Flint.
Clinton has been criticized, namely by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, for politicizing the water crisis.
On Sunday, congregants rejected the idea Clinton was using the issue.
“When you have gone through a lot like many of black folks and minorities and women have struggled with all of their lives and then along comes a public servant like Hillary Clinton, you know the real deal when you see it,” said Gerald Matthews, a 72-year-old retiree who has lived in Flint for over 40 years.
Matthews said he would have used foul language to describe people arguing the Clinton is politicizing the issue, but didn’t want to in a house of worship.
Pastor Kenneth Stewart who preached to the audience before Clinton arrived, was speechless after Clinton’s remarks, openly crying from the pulpit after her remarks.
“Hillary Clinton is on the waiting list and about nine months from now the United States is going to give birth to a president and I am praying that it is going to be a girl,” the pastor said, adding later that he was “just proud to have Hillary Clinton in our city.”
Clinton has made Flint a focus of her campaign since early January and her aides say she wanted to visit Flint earlier this year, but was concerned that the horde of journalists, Secret Service agents and aides that come with her would overwhelm the city’s already strapped resources.
Clinton, instead, dispatched her top political aide, Amanda Renteria, to visit Flint and meet with Mayor Karen Weaver in January. Weaver, at the time, invited Clinton to visit the city and later endorsed Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Clinton said Sunday that Weaver, who received a standing ovation for her work on the water crisis, was a “servant leader.”
Earlier this week in New Hampshire, Clinton charged that Gov. Rick Snyder and the state’s government “allowed children in Flint to drink poison water just to save a buck, as if their lives weren’t worth even that much.”
Sanders, Clinton’s Democratic opponent, called on Snyder to resign over the issue.