Hillary Clinton has heaped attention on the lead-poisoned city of Flint, Michigan, for weeks, but on Sunday she’ll do more than just highlight the crisis. She’ll actually see it firsthand.
The Democratic presidential candidate is scheduled to visit the faded American factory town with the undrinkable taps. Her plan is to tour the city with Mayor Karen Weaver, learning about the state of the crisis and the efforts to fix it.
The timing of the trip is remarkable, just two days before the New Hampshire primary election. But it’s also part of an explosion of attention from the former secretary of state and first lady.
Ever since the state declared a man-made emergency in early January, Clinton has hammered the problem and the Republican administration that caused it. Her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, has also fired shots at Michigan, calling for the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder.
But Clinton’s attention has been deeper and more consistent, according to those close to Mayor Weaver.
“She’s the only one actually trying to help Flint,” said Shayne Hodges, a Flint father of three and friend of Mayor Weaver.
“Secretary Clinton has been in touch with the mayor personally and the two staffs have been in consistent contact,” Kristin Moore, the mayor’s communication director told MSNBC. “As far as I know,” she added, “Clinton is the only presidential candidate—Republican or Democrat—who has reached out.”
Clinton’s latest comments came Thursday, during the Democratic presidential debate on MSNBC. Moderator Rachel Maddow, who has also focused on the issue for weeks, even traveling to Flint to host a town hall, asked Clinton whether she would launch a federal response.
“Absolutely,” said Clinton. “We need to be absolutely clear about everything that should be done from today to tomorrow, into the future to try to remedy the terrible burden that the people of Flint are bearing.
“That includes fixing their pipes, it includes guaranteeing whatever health care and educational embellishments they may need going forward, and I think the federal government has ways where it can bill the state of Michigan,” she continued. “If Michigan won't do it, there have to be ways that we can begin to move, and then make them pay for it and hold them accountable."
The New Hampshire audience broke into applause, but residents of Flint, a poor, majority-black town of 100,000, aren’t so sure that Clinton’s escalating interest in Flint is a good thing.
“It’s bad news to me,” said Arthur Woodson, a 46-year-old Army veteran who runs New Beginnings, a Flint-based nonprofit aimed at helping soldiers return to the community. “She’s turning it into a political football. The GOP won’t ever do anything now. They’re going to turn it into a partisan thing.”
RELATED: The Flint Water Crisis: A Timeline
“This is a water issue,” he continued. “It’s not a political issue. We got kids who are suffering. We don’t have time for this partisan stuff.”
In addition to her visit on Sunday, Clinton called for — and has received — the go ahead to hold a Democratic debate in Flint on March 6th, just two days before the Michigan primary.
It doesn’t sit well with Leon El-Alamin, the 35-year-old founder the M.A.D.E Institute, a nonprofit that helps ex-cons recover and future-cons avoid the same fate.
“Wow, wow, wow,” said El-Alamin when told of Clinton’s new plans. “My main concern is the people of Flint, and she can bring a lot of attention. But when people who haven’t been here from the beginning, with the crime and the poverty, well, it makes me hesitant and [it makes me] question their motives.”
Gov. Snyder’s public relations firm pushed a similar message on Friday, blasting reporters with an email headlined: “Presidential candidate politicizes Flint Water Crisis.”
“This ‘break’ from her campaign would seem sincerer had she done it when she first started mentioning it, not when she is facing a 30-point deficit in the polls in New Hampshire," Michigan GOP chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel told the Detroit Free Press. "The political games involving Flint need to stop, and the focus needs to be on providing resources and solutions for the families and residents affected by this crisis.”
Other residents, perhaps most of them, credit Clinton with bringing precisely that kind of focus.
“I think any kind of awareness is a good thing,” said Eric Patrick Thomas, a quadriplegic who lives in the heart of the water crisis. He is a community advocate, motivational speaker, and Rocky fan who thinks Clinton is exactly the kind of corner coach the city needs.
“When I go outside my city, I think of the 'Rocky' song -- that's how we are here,” he told MSNBC. “We've taken some hits but we've gotten back up we've learned to overcome it. We're so strong. We're so strong here."