As students from historically black colleges and universities throughout the nation will travel to Flint, MI over the next two months, using spring break time to deliver bottled water to residents and their children, an HBCU graduate will be working to restore confidence in the city’s municipal leadership.
Karen Weaver, a Tougaloo College graduate and recently elected mayor of Flint, has become the new face of the city’s recovery effort, embarking on a grueling campaign to build transparency with residents, appeals with media and federal government, and to re-engineer civic stability in public safety and environmental oversight.
The Detroit Free Press today profiles Dr. Weaver, who emerged as an unlikely candidate for mayor of her hometown.
Today, politics consumes her professional life as she leads a city in crisis after a botched switch of the city’s water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. The mishandled move resulted in the more corrosive river water leaching lead and other contaminants into the water supply. The water crisis is also suspected as a likely culprit for a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Genesee County that has sickened 88 people, 10 of whom have died.
Weaver said she was asked in 2011 to volunteer for the mayoral campaign of Darryl Buchanan, who unsuccessfully ran against incumbent Mayor Dayne Walling, the man Weaver defeated in November amid the growing water crisis.
Weaver said she learned a lot during Buchanan’s campaign about the plight of Flint, a once-bustling city full of manufacturing jobs, powerful unions and civic pride, now left starving for jobs due to General Motors plant closings. Added to the mix was the fact that city government was careening toward a state takeover and the appointment of an emergency manager.
“Once I saw what was going on, I really got heavily involved,” she said. “I started off going in a couple days a week, then it was three days a week. By the time it was over, I was there every day, even when he was going to visit churches on Sundays. It was really like I couldn’t help myself. I saw what was going on and it bothered me.”