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National Spotlight Returns To Flint, Mich., Ahead Of Democratic Debate


With the Democratic presidential debate happening Sunday in Flint, Mich., the national spotlight is once again on the city and its lead-tainted drinking water, but some people in Flint are tired of all the attention. Steve Carmody with Michigan Radio reports.

STEVE CARMODY, BYLINE: There are six men waiting for one of two barber chairs to open up and in the Consolidated Tattoo and Barbershop in downtown Flint. Barber Zac Minock is giving a customer a trim. He says there's not as much talk in his barbershop about flint's drinking water problems these days. And Minock says his customers are definitely over all the national coverage the city's been getting.

ZAC MINCOK: Really, I feel a lot of people are just kind of sick of it being so much in the media, you know? And - I don't know. It's kind of, like, kind of beating a dead horse at this point.

CARMODY: People in Flint have been dealing with undrinkable tap water for nearly two years. The city's drinking water source was switched to the Flint River to save money, but the water was not properly treated, leading to a series of problems, including E. coli outbreaks. Last year's discovery of lead leaching into the drink water elevated Flint's water woes from a local crisis to a national issue. Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will hold their next presidential debate here on Sunday. And it's why two-dozen member of Congress - all Democrats - were in town today, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.


NANCY PELOSI: What is happening in Flint challenges the conscience of our nation. This is a tragedy of such magnitude because it breaks the bond that people have with the government to be there on issues, like the safety of the water our children drink, the air they breathe, the safety of their food.

CARMODY: Republicans charge Democrats are more interested in politicizing what's happening in Flint. Ronna Romney McDaniel is the chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party. She's also the niece of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Romney McDaniel singles out Democrat Hillary Clinton, who is running ads in Michigan on the Flint water crisis.

RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL: This is something where everybody in Michigan needs to be involved in the solution - Republicans and Democrats. We need to shed party labels and come together, and she's used it in a calculated political manner

CARMODY: Flint Mayor Karen Weaver appeared in that Hillary Clinton campaign ad on Flint water. Despite the complaints by some, the mayor says she doesn't mind the national attention.


KAREN WEAVER: We wouldn't be the topic of at least the Democratic debate. So I'm glad that we got the national attention because we knew that was the only way we were going to start getting some money coming into Flint and have a louder voice for Flint.

CARMODY: The national attention isn't all good. Janice Karcher is with the Flint/Genesee County Chamber of Commerce. At a small business recruitment conference today, she admitted the media coverage is making it harder to attract new businesses.


JANICE KARCHER: It impacts how people think about their business prospects and even about their employment prospects. And so it's really import that the community continue to work on solutions to the water situation.

CARMODY: With that in mind, Mayor Weaver hopes the national spotlight sticks around.


WEAVER: Stay tuned. I want all you back when we have a part two to this story. We have to. We have to make something good happen out of this.

CARMODY: The Flint water crisis came up briefly in last night's Republican presidential debate. It's expected to be featured more prominently in Sunday's Democratic showdown. For NPR News, I'm Steve Carmody in Flint, Mich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting. During his two and a half decades in broadcasting, Steve has won numerous awards, including accolades from the Associated Press and Radio and Television News Directors Association. Away from the broadcast booth, Steve is an avid reader and movie fanatic. Q&A
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