By Paul Rozycki
Eight of the ten Democrats competing to fill Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s seat in the State House for the 34th district faced each other in a forum at Joy Tabernacle Church in Civic Park on Jan. 3, only four days before the Democratic primary.
On the panel were 3rd Ward Councilman Santino Guerra, Flint City Council President Monica Galloway, Candice Mushatt, Michael Clack, Charis Lee, Claudia Perkins-Milton, Sherwood Pea and Sean Croudy. Two remaining candidates, Cynthia Neeley and Vincent Lang did not attend.
Facing an audience of 50 to 75 people, the candidates presented their vision and views on some of the major issues facing the city. The two and a half hour forum gave the candidates a chance to answer a number of prepared questions, and also gave them a chance to respond to questions presented from the audience.
The prepared questions focused on two major areas: the Flint water crisis and problems with the Flint Community School system. Questions asked by the audience ranged from what the candidates would do about economic development, auto insurance, infrastructure, to how they viewed the role of a state lawmaker. All candidates were asked what they would do during their first 60 days in Lansing.
Running for Neeley’s seat are several with family ties to well-known names in Flint politics. Michael Clack is the son of Floyd and Brenda Clack, both of whom served in the State House from the 34th district. Sean Croudy is the son of Lenore Croudy, chair of the Mott College Board of Trustees for many years, and Cynthia Neeley is the wife of Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley, who vacated the seat when he was elected last November.
Several of the candidates currently hold elective office. Both Monica Galloway and Santino Guerra serve on the Flint City Council. Candice Mushatt served as public information officer for Mayor Weaver, and worked as a legislative aid for Sheldon Neeley when he served in Lansing.
In brief summary, here are some of the key views expressed by the candidates:
Asked about the impact of the water crisis Clack said that, as a middle school teacher, he saw the lack of trust that developed in the students, and that his response was to go door-to-door and that the “crisis is not over.”
When it came to the problems facing the Flint schools, he said that the state needed to provide more funds, and he would be “an advocate for Flint kids,” and “Flint needed school pride.”
He said, “Vocational training is key” for the future. He said he believes in “old school politics” of personal contact and door-to-door campaigning. On his first 60 days in office, Clack said, he would “build alliances and work with people to find out what they want.”
As a school social worker, Croudy saw the impact of the Flint water crisis on the kids and that inspired him to work with them, as they dealt with problems from the water crisis. He felt the state needs to appropriate “more money for urban schools,” and there should be greater support for vocational training in high school.
When asked about housing issues, Croudy said people should have a right “to live in a safe environment and own a home.” He said the state should consider debt forgiveness for the Flint Community Schools, and the intermediate school district (ISD) “owes us money.” He said there should be new programs in the schools to “rebuild the self-esteem of the youth of Flint.” On his first 60 days in office he would “invest in water pods—we need them back.”
Asked about the water crisis, Monica Galloway said she was on council when the crisis started and that the emergency managers played a major role in the problem. Her response was that there needs to be a change in the emergency manager law, and the state needs to pay closer attention to the people on the local level.
With regard to education, Galloway said she believes the state needs to restore budget cuts to education. But she said she feels the Flint schools need to explain why they are in deficit and what they plan to do with the empty school buildings. When children have been harmed by the water crisis she said “civil lawsuits are a key to resolve” some of the major problems and “the state is liable” when it comes to paying for the problems caused by the water crisis.
Considering Flint’s economic problems, she said “the city lacks affordable housing.” She said in her view the “budget was the first responsibility” of a state lawmaker and said lost revenue sharing was a major cause of many of Flint’s financial problems. She served on the finance committee of the Michigan Municipal League. On her first 60 days Galloway said she would “touch base with state Senator Jim Ananich, because he is fighting for Flint,” as she assembled her staff.
Santino Guerra said he was in high school when the water crisis began and his first response was disbelief that it could happen to Flint. His reaction to it was one reason he decided to run for the Flint City Council.
As a state lawmaker, he said, he would work to increase and restore funds for education, especially in urban areas. He said he believes the funds should go for teachers and students first. He would also work to pursue grant funds for special education and would work on programs for mental health reform.
As a member of the Land Bank Board, Guerra said there were “too many empty homes” in the city and there is a greater need for affordable housing. He faced some critical remarks from Candice Mushatt for the role of the Land Bank in Flint.
Like Galloway, he said he feels that the budget is the first duty of a state lawmaker. On his first 60 days, he said, his priority would be reform of the criminal justice system and fair sentencing laws.
Attorney Charis Lee was in law school when the water crisis hit Flint, but it motivated her to volunteer to work on the problem where she began to tutor kids in a literacy program. She said “reading and writing is critical.”
She said she believes the real solution to both Flint’s problems and the school’s problems is to rebuild our population and tax base with incentives to invest and settle in Flint. She said the city needs to grow to avoid more population loss, and the city needs more homeowners to support a growing tax base.
Lee said she wants to “build the Flint economy” as her first goal. As an attorney, she said she has the skill to write the bills that the legislature would deal with. On her first 60 days, she said she would meet with the attorney general to pursue both criminal and civil cases related to the Flint water crisis.
As a legislative aide for Sheldon Neeley and public information officer for Mayor Karen Weaver, Mushatt said she felt the water crisis very directly from constituents. Much of her community work, and her work to end the emergency manager law, she said, has been a response to the water crisis.
She said there have been too many cuts to the education budget, and there should be more funds for special education and a harder look at the problems with charter schools, adding State lawmakers should work with the Flint superintendent of schools to keep revenue coming in.
Mushatt said the key to affordable housing is a living wage for all workers. Her goal is “to serve the residents and bring resources back to Flint.” As a legislative aide she said she could work with both sides of the aisle. In her first 60 days she said “there would be no learning curve” and that she would work to repeal the pension tax and “account for those who poisoned us.”
Sherwood Pea Jr.
Sherwood Pea said when he first heard of the water crisis, he reacted with disbelief and wondered “why the Flint River?” His response was to learn more about the water crisis through his contacts with the VFW and the UAW.
He said he felt there should be a better redistribution of school funds, and that the lottery should be a large source of those funds. Lawmakers should work with the school board and work for more school aid.
Pea said the Land Bank’s first job should be to sell homes and property to residents “at a good price.” He said he “works with others in many organizations” and he would “let people know what Flint has to offer.” During his first 60 days, he said, he would “find out what we need in Flint.”
Claudia Perkins-Milton said she felt a personal anger when the water crisis hit because she had two relatives who were harmed by the crisis. Her cousin was the child on the cover of Time magazine’s Flint water issue.
She has been an activist in the Democratic Party, and lobbied in Washington for a number of causes and issues. She said she would like to see funds restored to retain her neighborhood schools on the north end, and described herself as a “fighting person.”
With regard to housing in Flint, she said she feels that “too much has been sold to outsiders” and would like to see the $1 housing program restored for Flint residents, and that redlining should be ended.
She said she feels the community needs more co-op programs in schools, and she would challenge the school board to keep the money in the community. She said she believes criminals should be brought to justice whether they are the governor, the mayor or the pope. She has worked with block clubs and negotiated major contracts at the Delphi plant. On her first 60 days, she said she would be a “raging lion” to solve the water crisis and end redlining in Flint.
Primary election TUESDAY
The Democratic primary election is on Tuesday Jan. 7. The general election is scheduled for March 10. Adam Ford is the sole Republican nominee. Whoever wins would then have to run again in an August primary and in the general election in November for a full two-year term.
EVM staff writer and political columnist Paul Rozycki can be reached at email@example.com.