At the Democratic presidential debate in Flint on March 6, candidate Bernie Sanders asserted that white people have no idea what life is like in a ghetto. He said, “When you are white, you don’t know what it is like to be living in a ghetto, you don’t know what it’s like to be poor.” This was despite his claims in the past that he had been raised in poverty by his Jewish refugee parents in Chicago.

Sanders said, “When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down a street or you get dragged out of a car.” His comments drew criticism on Twitter and elsewhere. Some commenters pointed out the poverty that exists among white Southerners of Appalachia. Charlie Helms, a former university chancellor, tweeted that not all blacks live in ghettos but racism affects all.

Another tweet criticized Sanders for not understanding black people.

Outside the debate venue in the stricken city in Michigan, supporters of Bernie Sanders demanded entry to Whiting Auditorium where their candidate and Hillary Clinton clashed on issues ranging from gun rights, financial support from Wall Street financiers, and foreign trade issues. However, in an interview with Spero News, a local politician was critical about bringing race into the political discussion.

Over the last few months, attention has been focused on Flint because of governmental mismanagement that caused contamination of the city’s drinking water with toxic lead. Democrats, including Clinton and Sanders, have joined with progressives and leftists in calling for the resignation of Republican Governor Rick Snyder, while blaming alleged indifference to the majority black city.

Natasha Henderson - former Flint city manager

In an interview with Spero News, IT specialist and former mayoral candidate Kayamone Sutton Sr. dismissed claims that racism is at the heart of crisis in Flint. Sutton said that he came to the rally outside the debate to criticize the politicization of the water crisis. Politicians, he said, “should not use us as a tool to get into office.” He blamed both Democrats and Republicans, criticizing the debate organizers for not including him and others.

Dayne Walling - Mayor of Flint (2009-2015)

Sutton was asked whether electing a Democrat to the White House would make a difference for Flint, which has elected Democrats regularly to Congress and the mayor’s office since 1974. As to claims by progressives and Democrats, such as Michael Moore and Hillary Clinton, that the Flint water crisis was an act of racism, Sutton was dismissive. Such claims, Sutton said, are merely “dramatizing” the problem. “It’s not a race issue at all,” said Sutton.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver

When asked to identify the culprits for the contamination of Flint’s drinking water, Sutton placed the blamed squarely on all levels of government, including local politicians and the federal government, as has Governor Snyder. Sutton reviewed the history of Flint politics, which led to the naming of city managers by both Democratic and Republican governors.

Former Flint mayor Woodrow Stanley (1999-2002)

He pointed to the legacy of former mayor Woodrow Stanley, a Democrat who went on to serve in Michigan’s legislature despite being recalled as mayor in 2002. Sutton blamed what he called financial mismanagement and embezzlement under Stanley and the majority Democratic city council that led to the state takeover, first by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and later by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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