FLINT, MICH. - Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, had a simple message for Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee was on his way to Flint: “Less than 60 days before the election and now Donald Trump rolls into town for a photo op. Give me a break. Where the hell have you been?”
Using the Flint water plant as a backdrop, several dozen people gathered to say that Flint needs more from presidential candidates than to be used as props and photo ops in their campaigns.
"I'm here to call on Donald Trump to stop using the Flint water crisis as a prop for his campaign. Not once since the beginning of his campaign has Trump addressed the crisis, despite ample opportunity," said Desiree Duell, a Flint mother and activist with the group Flint Rising. "We have been denied clean, safe water for more than two years and we want Donald Trump to know that we need a real solution to this crisis, not empty rhetoric or more of the same 'run government like a business' mentality that led to this crisis in the first place."
Although the campaign has refused to provide details of Trump's trip to Flint, some specifics have begun to emerge as the city prepares for a presidential candidate visit: He's expected to land at Bishop International Airport around 1:30 p.m. and then tour the Flint water plant.
Trump's visit, his second in the last two weeks, is aimed at reaching out to communities with large populations of African-American voters. It's also supposed to include a meeting with pastors to talk about the problems facing the city, but the campaign wouldn't provide details on where the meeting will be held.
If the visit to the water plant happens, it will come despite reluctance voiced by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who has endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. She said in a statement Tuesday evening that Trump has never reached out to her about the Flint water crisis and that the city workers didn't need the distraction of a last-minute visit. But she also said Wednesday morning from Washington DC, where she is lobbying Congress to pass federal funding for the city, that her wariness should not translate into refusing Trump's request to visit the plant.
Trump is then expected to meet with Flint ministers at the Bethel United Methodist Church in Flint to talk about the problems plaguing the city, which has been suffering through a public health crisis caused by lead contaminated water. That event is not open to the public and local media is not expected to be allowed to attend.
Outside the Flint water plant this morning, however, residents said that if Trump is truly concerned about the residents of Flint, he should talk to families affected by the crisis.
Minister Rigel Dawson, of North Central Church of Christ in Flint, said he wasn't there to endorse any candidate, "but I invite him to have a dialogue with the residents and community leaders ... The people of this community deserve more than to be patronized."
Democrats in the presidential campaign made Flint a key talking point during the presidential primaries. Both Clinton and Bernie Sanders visited the city, and one of the Democratic Party's debates was held in Flint. Weaver also spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Bieber said Clinton's actions in Flint are different from Trump's visit because it happened early on in the crisis and included sending staff to work with Flint city officials and helping set up a program to find work for teenagers this past summer.
"She drew national attention to the issues. She put pressure on the Governor to take action. Hillary Clinton has had Flint's back every step of the way," Bieber said, adding that if Trump really cared he should write a personal check for $10 million for the families of the city. "Donald Trump doesn't give a rip about Flint ... My message today is pretty clear, 'Donald Trump, go home. You aren't welcome in Flint.'"
Republican candidates during the March primary and after Trump officially became the nominee in July have scarcely mentioned the Flint water crisis — much less visited. It came up briefly during the Republican debate held in Detroit, and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette talked about the crisis during his speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
The Flint water crisis began when the city, which was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched its water supply in April 2014 from the Detroit Water and Sewerage System, which draws from Lake Huron, to a new supplier that drew water from the Flint River. The new water supply, which was more corrosive than the lake water, was improperly treated, causing pipes to deteriorate and leach lead into the water going into the city's homes and businesses.
Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau