By Paul Rozycki
With a forum that could have been titled “Two Mayors and Mays,” incumbent Mayor Sheldon Neeley, former Mayor Karen Weaver, and city council member Eric Mays responded to questions from a standing-room-only audience of Mott Park residents for more than an hour and a half on Monday evening.
In the park-like setting of the Mott Park Disc Golf Course, each laid out their visions for the city and their accomplishments in city government.
The event was sponsored by the Mott Park Neighborhood Association and gave the neighborhood residents a chance to listen to the three mayoral candidates competing in the Aug. 2 primary. The top two candidates will move on to the November election.
In their opening remarks each candidate gave some of the reasons they were running for mayor.
Eric Mays said he was “running a different kind of campaign” where he had no campaign literature, no yard signs and accepted no campaign contributions, but was relying on a “word of mouth” campaign to support his candidacy. He said his priorities were reducing crime, aiding economic development, and fighting blight.
Incumbent Mayor Sheldon Neeley listed his major accomplishments as creating a sound balanced budget for the city, ending the deficit, and economic growth, during his administration. He pointed to the new Chevy in the Hole State Park, the revitalization of the Mott Park Golf course, and development efforts with the old Buick City area as examples of his success.
Former Mayor Karen Weaver said that during her time as mayor, she brought back home rule as the emergency manager ended. She pointed out she dealt with the water crisis and began the process of replacing the lead pipes in the city. She also said the crime rate was lower and that Flint was no longer on the list of the top 25 cities for crime during her tenure.
Unlike many candidate forums, this one was not a debate format, but gave each candidate an opportunity to respond to questions or issues raised by Mott Park neighborhood residents.
The first question dealt with the continuing replacement of lead pipes in Flint.
Weaver said the current process was behind schedule and that “clean and affordable water” was essential for the citizens of Flint.
Neeley said the current project was running behind schedule because of the pandemic and a series of problems with contractors. But he noted that during his administration the pipeline to Lake Huron was completed.
Mays blamed Neeley for the delays. He said the previous administration, (Weaver) had allocated as much as $30 million to Black-owned construction companies and he would do the same.
Recruiting new police officers
The second question dealt with the rising crime rate in Flint and the need to recruit new police officers.
Neeley said during his administration officers were encouraged to stay with Flint with a number of salary bonuses; he said 98 percent of the bonus money had been paid.
Weaver said “we need more officers” and praised them as she said “they need to take us at our word” that the city would support them adequately.
Mays said he would support giving extra hazard pay to all city employees working with the public, adding that he would take immediate action. “If stuff ain’t working right, heads goanna roll,” he said.
What would they do differently?
The next question asked what they would do differently as they looked back on their terms as mayor or councilmembers.
Mays said he would work to resolve the large backlog of cases in the police department and that if he were mayor he would “be there for the council” and work with them.
Neeley said he would like to see more police officers in the city, and took pride in the program that has taken guns off the street. He also said his administration reduced the deficit of the city and balanced the budget.
Former Mayor Weaver took the opportunity to denounce those who “were spreading lies” about her taking money, and said that the next mayor needs to exhibit truth, trust and transparency.
Flint’s crime rate
The next question deal with public safety and the rise in the Flint crime rate.
Weaver said the city needed as many as 150 police officers to do a good job, that she would support an increase in the police intelligence center. “We all deserve a safe city,” she said.
Sheldon Neeley said his administration declared a gun violence emergency and created programs to take guns off the street. He also said the city should work out partnerships with other departments to offer each other mutual aid in fighting crime.
Mays said he would increase the pay of police officers and have more officers and police cars. He said, “No one should be waiting three or four hours for the police to show up after an auto accident.”
Economic development was the next topic.
Mays said “creating jobs is key” and that he would work to support both major developers and more home businesses.
Weaver said that to keep people in the city “we must fight crime first” to prevent people from leaving. That would create a stronger tax base for growth. She added that improving the Flint Community School system would be a major incentive to keep people in the city.
Sheldon Neeley said that pursuing the Buick City redevelopment project could mean as many as three to four thousand new jobs and that the city is in a stronger financial situation because he dealt with the structural deficit. He added that the revitalization of the Sloan Museum and the new Public Library are assets to attract new residents to the city.
Several Mott Park residents asked about what the candidates would do about blight in Flint.
Neeley responded that he had revitalized the city department that fights blight, and that by 2024 he hoped to have nearly all the abandoned structures down within the city.
Mays said the city needed new equipment and more personnel to deal with blight in the neighborhoods.
Weaver said “we were working on it” when she left office, but that several key people have left during the Neeley administration. She said that in the end, “we have to learn to take care of ourselves.”
Working with the City Council
One of the major issues facing the city has been the conflict between the mayor’s office and the council, and Mott Park residents asked what each would do to improve the situation.
Karen Weaver said that during her administration “we had some good times” and she was able to create a $24 million surplus by working with the council. She added that in the end “we all want the same things” and that if presented with a clear vision the council and mayor should be able to work together.
Sheldon Neeley said that having served on the council for many years gave him insights on how to work with it and that in spite of the friction they have been able to create three balanced budgets by working with the council.
Mays, who is the senior member of the council, and had served as council president, said that “I know this council….and I know how to get five votes.”
Each of the candidates were given five minutes to summarize their campaigns and why they should be elected Aug. 2.
Former Mayor Karen Weaver quoted Ronald Reagan and raised the question for voters by saying “Are you better off now than you were in 2019” when she was mayor. She said she would like to finish what she started when she returned home rule to Flint and would like to continue to reduce crime, finish replacing the pipes, saying “I’m fighting for Flint.”
Councilman Eric Mays spoke of how his campaign was raising no money, printing no literature and, with one exception, putting out no signs as he pursued his “word of mouth” campaign. With a smile, he said this was an historic election because, for the first time, every candidate for mayor was Black, and that “The next mayor of Flint will be Black.”
Mayor Sheldon Neeley urged the voters to “look at the record” of his accomplishments, such as the new state park and the Buick City developments, and that “we are one Flint, and we must come together” to solve problems. He said his experience in the state legislature earned the support of the governor and the federal government. He said that many of Flint’s problems grew out of the years when the city was governed by emergency managers and he was working to undo those problems.
EVM Political Commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at Paul.Rozycki@mcc.edu.