Former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling has been regretting the day he switched his city's water supply — a move that subjected thousands to lead exposure following an engineering mistake — at least since he was voted out of office in 2015. But now, former Flint Mayor Walling is running for office again, and he'll face his first challenge in the Michigan primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 7.
Walling is not running to be Flint mayor a second time — instead, it's to represent a portion of the city and its suburbs in the Michigan House of Representatives. On Tuesday, he will be on the primary ballot with five other Democrats, all of whom are vying to win the primary nomination.
Part of Walling's campaign now is to try to hold the state accountable. In his pitch to voters in the district he'd like to represent, for instance, he criticized the state, according to Politico Magazine:
They’ve provided water filters, but that’s not enough. They’ve stopped distributing bottled water. Now that’s being done out of charitable contributions, but that’s something the state should be paying for.
Whether or not Walling is fully to blame for the water crisis is up for debate, although he was the person to literally flip the switch on the water supply, which led to the crisis.
The changeover to local river water from water supplied by Detroit was the decision of a state financial manager in April 2014, but Walling was enthusiastic about the move at the time. He publicly endorsed the new water supply's quality twice on local TV in 2014 and 2015, even though it was later found that the chemical makeup mixed with the water caused lead pipes to corrode and leach into the drinking water.
Among those Walling is running against is Justin Dickerson, an area high school principal, and John Cherry, a former employee of the state's Department of Natural Resources, a coffee shop owner, and the son of a former lieutenant governor.
Walling, together with Dickerson and Cherry, attended a recent candidate forum hosted by the Genesee County Association of School Board Members (GCASBM) and the League of Women Voters. Water wasn't the overarching focus of the debate.
The other candidates, LaShaya Darisaw, Jacky King, and Don Wright, did not attend. Nor did the one Republican in the race. The forum's focus was more public education funding and quality, rather than the Flint crisis.
Even Darisaw, who made a name for herself advocating for the community during the water crisis, doesn't focus solely on the issue. Her campaign page mentions it under public infrastructure but adds that there's much more to do:
Our infrastructure in Michigan goes well beyond the water issues. While I will fight to improve and correct the failed water infrastructure, I will also fight to properly maintain our roads and bridges and railways which, many are in disrepair. In addition, I will fight to begin transition from an oil-based state to a complementary green system; including wind, solar, wave, and geothermal; all of which are plentiful throughout our great state of Michigan.
Walling wishes he could have a similar outsider's relationship to the water crisis. "I wish that I had never been part of any of it,” Walling told Politico Magazine. "This has all happened to a community that I deeply love, and it is motivating me to make sure policy changes are made to make sure this never happens again."
Voters will decide Tuesday if he gets that opportunity.