FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder responded Monday to criticism from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the Democratic debates for his handling of Flint’s water emergency, saying Clinton is making it a political issue.
During Sunday’s debate, Clinton said “every single American should be outraged” by the water crisis, adding that “if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would have been action.”
Following a speaking engagement at a Martin Luther King Day event in Flint, the Republican governor said her tactic doesn’t help solve the problem.
“We’re going to keep working on putting solutions in place,” Snyder told The Detroit News. “And what I would say is: Politicizing the issue doesn’t help matters. Let’s focus in on the solution and how to deal with the damage that was done and help the citizens of Flint and make Flint a stronger community.”
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, has called for Snyder’s resignation.
The crisis began in 2014 when a state-appointed emergency manager switched Flint from Detroit water to Flint River water to save money. The corrosive water caused lead to leach from old pipes. Flint returned to the Detroit system in October after elevated lead levels were discovered in children.
But officials remain concerned that damaged pipes could continue to leach lead, which can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in children as well as kidney ailments in adults.
Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint earlier this month. On Saturday, President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration but denied Snyder’s request for a disaster declaration based on the legal requirement that such relief is intended for natural events, fires, floods or explosions.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Monday that she will travel Tuesday to Washington in hopes of securing a disaster declaration anyway, The Flint Journal reported. That declaration would provide more money and resources than the emergency declaration.
Dozens of people protested outside Snyder’s residence in downtown Ann Arbor on Monday afternoon, marching there from the nearby University of Michigan campus. They said he didn’t act swiftly enough to help Flint residents and held signs calling for his dismissal and arrest.
Snyder said Monday that he is considering requests from outside groups to release internal emails about the Flint water crisis, The News reported. His office is shielded from public record requests under state law.
Members of Michigan’s National Guard have been called in to help volunteers pass out drinking water, testing kits, filters and other supplies to city residents, and the state said more Guard members arrived Monday to bring the total to 70.
Nearly 5,000 homes were visited Sunday.