Let us eat cake! Michigan’s Snyder throws lavish birthday party in midst of Flint water crisis
The birthday celebration that Governor Rick Snyder threw for his wife Sue at an upscale restaurant in Ann Arbor was first reported by Ann Arbor blogger Mark Maynard. When Maynard went to investigate the party, he discovered the windows at the restaurant had been “blacked out” and a security detail outside, apparently not knowing that the event had been organized by governor.
“[It] didn’t take too long for word about what had taken place inside this lavish party to leak out. Within a few days, I’d be hearing about the ostentatious decorations, the banners, the birthday cake…,” Maynard wrote in a February 4 entry to his blog.
According to Maynard, the celebration took place in a room decorated in deep blue with a diamond theme and included a luxury-themed birthday cake designed by Anne Leavitt for Sweet Heather Anne. Though Leavitt’s company specializes in wedding cakes, the cake created for Michigan’s first lady’s was apparently something special, featuring a medley of elaborate decorations such as edible luxury items from Chanel, Michael Kors, Tiffany, and Nordstrom. Draped across the pile of treasures was a chunky white necklace made of icing.
The cake designer told MLive.com that she had spent a total of 30 hours on the confection.
“I had no idea, like seriously no idea [about the recipient],” said Leavitt. “We delivered it to the West End Grill and put it down and I’m taking photos of the cake. Then Claudia, who was also working on the cake with me, looks up and sees Rick Snyder on all the photos in the room, and so we put two and two together,” said Leavitt.
The birthday party had probably been in the works for months, but news of the event was ill-timed and seemed in poor taste to critics, especially as it occurred during a public health emergency. The crisis in Flint, where the water being delivered to the city’s 100,000 residents was contaminated with lead, has cast a harsh light on Snyder’s administration and its behavior.
The situation arose after a state-appointed emergency manager directed Flint to move away from the Detroit water system and tap the polluted Flint River for the city’s drinking water. The resulting disaster, in which over 9,000 children were exposed to lead that could lead to irreversible nerve damage, prompted the declaration of a state of emergency that has seen the National Guard brought in to organize the delivery emergency bottled water and water filters to Flint’s residents.
“In the whole scheme of things, having a party behind covered windows with a bunch of rich folks, eating expensive cake while poor people suffer, probably isn’t that big of a deal. Compared with lying about water quality, and encouraging people to keep drinking poison, it’s really inconsequential,” wrote Maynard. “I think, however, it illustrates just how little the people we elected to look after our interests in Michigan really care about us.”
In addition, emails leaked last week showed that an aide in Governor Snyder’s office had been told about a deadly Legionnaires’ outbreak in Flint that some officials linked to the contaminated water a full 10 months before the governor informed the public. The outbreak, which sickened 87 people and left 10 dead, also occurred shortly after the city switched to the Flint River for its water supply.
Another round of leaked emails showed that state workers had been trucking their own water supply in to a state building in Flint in January of 2015 – almost a year before the governor acknowledged the lead contamination problem.
State officials repeatedly insisted that Flint tap water was safe to drink during nearly all of 2015. The governor only acknowledged the problem in October of 2015, and didn’t declare a state of emergency until January 5, 2016.
“It appears the state wasn’t as slow as we first thought in responding the Flint Water Crisis. Sadly, the only response was to protect the Snyder administration from future liability and not to protect the children of Flint from lead poisoning,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, who shared the documents. “While residents were being told to relax and not worry about the water, the Snyder administration was taking steps to limit exposure in its own building,” he stressed in a statement
Further revelations show that lead levels in some parts of the city are still so high that they are overwhelming the water filters that have been distributed to residents and businesses, despite the city switching back to water from Detroit.