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Karen Weaver emerging as a strong leader in a battered city

Mar 22, 2016

For years, I got a lot of information about what was happening in mid-Michigan, especially Flint from one of the state’s most colorful gadflies, Pat Clawson.

Clawson had been everything from a disc jockey to a political candidate to a private detective to an award-winning investigative reporter for CNN. Usually, he held several jobs at once. He was sometimes a little nutty. Once, after he spoke to a class of mine at Wayne State University, he said he was shocked that I would venture into Detroit without wearing a gun.

But more often than not, he was ahead of most conventional journalists on many stories. He seemed to have the ability to see around corners, and always did his homework.

Six years ago, then-Governor Jennifer Granholm appeared on stage with one Richard Short, to announce she was giving him $9.1 million in tax credits to establish a new business headquarters in Flint.

Next thing I knew, Clawson was on the phone, bellowing into my ear that Short was a convicted embezzler on parole who owed vast sums in restitution to his victims.

Unlike the governor, Clawson had checked the guy out on the Internet. Short was soon back in jail, and Granholm was, one would hope, embarrassed.

Then late last summer, Clawson told me state officials were lying through their teeth about the water in Flint.

“They are literally poisoning the people with this water, and that’s what the doctors call it among themselves,” he said, adding, “I believe there is criminal culpability on the part of public officials for causing and concealing the crisis.”

I thought at the time Pat had taken a too-deep dive into the conspiracy theory tank. I never imagined that less than six months later, the taxpayers would be spending $800,000 to hire a criminal defense attorney for Governor Rick Snyder.

But life isn’t always fair, and Pat Clawson didn’t get to see how tragically right he was. Last October, he died of a massive heart attack at his home in Swartz Creek. Just days before that, I talked to him about the mayor’s race in Flint.

... for the first time in forever, Flint is being led by a strong and popular leader who completely identifies with her people and is visibly fighting for them.

He absolutely despised the incumbent, Dayne Walling, who he saw as a prime mover in switching the city to Flint River water. But he told me that there was little chance of his being defeated, that his opponent, Karen Weaver, “was a total non-entity.”

Well, just as life isn’t always fair, Pat wasn’t always right. Weaver easily defeated Walling in last November’s election. By that point, probably anyone could have beaten Walling.

But Weaver, a businesswoman with a doctorate in clinical psychology, has proven anything but a nonentity.

She’s become the most dynamic and engaged mayor in Flint’s modern history, visible daily, working with state authorities but constantly pushing them to do more for her battered town, and completely replacing the city’s management team.

According to a profile in today’s Detroit Free Press, Weaver is someone who loves rising to a challenge. It may be too early to say that a new political star has been born.

But for the first time in forever, Flint is being led by a strong and popular leader who completely identifies with her people and is visibly fighting for them.

Within a few months, we’ll have a better idea how successful she can be.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.