The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After Hillary Clinton champions lead issue, Flint mayor endorses her

Mayor Karen Weaver speaks about a federal emergency declaration regarding the water crisis in Flint, Mich., on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. (Sean Proctor/The Flint Journal - via AP)

IOWA CITY, Iowa — In the last week, Hillary Clinton has seized on the issue of lead poisoning in the water supply of a small, poor, and predominantly African American town in Flint, Mich. and effectively injected the issue into the 2016 presidential contest.

The effort culminated on the Democratic debate stage on Sunday night, when Clinton used her closing statement to decry the "outrageous" situation in which children were bathing in and drinking poisoned water.

On Tuesday, the city's mayor Karen Weaver made it clear that after Clinton's efforts on behalf of her city, she would return the favor.

"I want Hillary," Weaver said on a conference call with reporters.

"We want a friend like Hillary in the White House," she added. "We need a fighter we need someone there fighting for the city of Flint."

Weaver, the city's first woman mayor, last year defeated an incumbent who was widely criticized for his role in the city's water crisis.

The Clinton campaign views the issue of Flint as one that is personally close to the candidate's heart. Early in her legal career, Clinton was an attorney for the Children's Defense Fund, and as a senator from New York, worked to eradicate lead in homes in the state.

Her handling of the issue also serves as a foreshadowing of Clinton's leadership style, the campaign says.

"Her immediate response has been: Let's see what’s going on and let’s see what we can do to help," said Clinton's National Political Director Amanda Renteria, the former chief of staff for Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). Renteria was dispatched to Flint by the Clinton campaign to investigate the issue last week.

And while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has called for the resignation or Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, Weaver said that Clinton's level of engagement surpasses any other candidate in the presidential field.

"She has actually been the only, the only candidate — Democrat or Republican — to reach out and talk about: 'What can I do?'" Weaver said. "'What kind of help do you need?'"

Snyder has accused Clinton and Sanders of "politicizing" the issue. The Clinton campaign, on the other hand, noted that hours after she called on Snyder to request additional aid from the federal government, he moved to do just that.

Speaking to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Monday night, Clinton responded to Snyder's criticism.

"Thanks to what we have done... the national spotlight is shining on the horrible situation in Flint," Clinton said. "And it's clear that as attention has increased so has the governor's apparent willingness to deal seriously with the issue."

"I don't call that politicizing. I'd call that getting results," she added.

Clinton's decision to seize on the issue, and the resultant, full-throated endorsement by the city's African-American mayor, has also highlighted the challenges her Democratic opponents — principally Sanders — will face in dislodging loyalty to Clinton among minority voters.

During the debate on Sunday night, Clinton framed Flint as a crisis of health and implied that it was also a symptom of class and racial disparities that persist in America.

Her campaign, on Tuesday, doubled down on that assessment.

"If this had been happening in an affluent neighborhood with white kids, everybody would have been responding immediately," Renteria said.