The following is a transcript of an interview with Mayor Chokwe Lumumba of Jackson, Mississippi, that aired Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the continued efforts to restore clean water to the roughly 150,000 residents of Jackson, Mississippi. The city’s mayor Chokwe Lumumba joins us now, live from Jackson. And Mr. Mayor, we welcome you to the program. You don’t get more basic governance than running water. When can your residents turn on the faucet and not have to worry?
MAYOR CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Well, first and foremost, Margaret, thank you for having me. And thank you for lifting this circumstance up. Fortunately, we have some level of good news to report, that all residents have had water pressure restored to them, they have yet to have the boil water notice lifted and so there are still concerns around the consumption of that water. Right now, as many repairs and adjustments are taking place. In the triage period of where we are at the water treatment facility. There’s also investigatory sampling taking place. And so we believe that it’s a matter of days, not weeks before that boil water notice can be lifted. But I would note this, that we have been here before, where we’ve been able to restore pressure, we’ve been able to lift boil water notices. But without the significant capital improvements to take place. It still is a matter of if not when these things will happen again.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to talk to you about–
MAYOR LUMUMBA: When not if I apologize.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to talk to you about that capital in a moment. But we also have learned that there is now a federal probe of the drinking water crisis. The spokesperson for the EPA’s inspector general tol- told our Avery Miller that the investigators are already on the ground in your city to speak to local officials. Do you know the scope of this are your actions as mayor being investigated?
MAYOR LUMUMBA: Well, first and foremost, I think that anytime you have an event of this severity take place, then you should expect more questions and more investigation and I think we should be open to that. No, no one has talked to me. I do not know the scope nor the timeline in which they’re investigating. But I can share that- that to the extent that they will be speaking to city employees, I will direct them to cooperate with any investigation. We look forward to more information so that we can get beyond this.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, there was a similar investigation of Flint, Michigan, as you know, years ago, it ultimately led to nine indictments, do you expect similar action in your city?
MAYOR LUMUMBA: Well, I can’t speak to the- the analogous nature of the Flint, Michigan circumstance and Jackson. I can share with you that I am unaware of any criminal activity on behalf of individuals here in the city of Jackson. However, what we do is- what we do want is a greater understanding of where failures have been taking place. We know that our administration and in fact administration’s pasts have been pushing for corrective action to take place for a long time.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. You mentioned the need for capital. In March 2021, federal government sent 42 million directly to the city as part of the American rescue plan. In August 2021. President Biden said this when he signed off on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Never again, can we allow what happened in Flint, Michigan, in Jackson, Mississippi, can never let it happen again.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s happening again. In fact, it’s getting worse. Where’s the money? Why isn’t it–
MAYOR LUMUMBA: Well–
MARGARET BRENNAN: go ahead.
MAYOR LUMUMBA: Well, first and foremost, I’ve had very extensive discussions with the President and the Vice President concerning the federal government’s desire to help and we look forward to that. We have committed the grand majority of our ARPA funds towards our infrastructure, not only at the water treatment facility, but- but distribution lines. We’ve spent $8 million on one pipe alone to South Jackson, which is disproportionately affected. It is also critical for people to know that the city of Jackson didn’t get $42 million at one time, merely a little over a month ago, we got our second tranche of the funds. We have made a commitment to spend all that- the remaining dollars, there was some choice to spend some towards public safety issues. And so we are committing the lion’s share- the overwhelming majority of our funds towards this challenge. However, it is insufficient to meet the great need of 30 years of deferred maintenance and accumulated challenges. And so it will take a coordinated effort on not only the local state, but federal levels as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And what does that mean federal taxpayer dollars have been allocated here? Why can’t the White House get that to faster?
MAYOR LUMUMBA: Well, I believe that there is a full intent to do so. I think that there is a process by which you identified the different pockets in which the money lies and creativity needing to take place. I can share with you that there has been full cooperation and communication at the highest levels, whether it’s the administrator of the EPA, Michael Regan, who- who speaks to me consistently about their effort and desire to help, whether we’re talking about the czar of the infrastructure bill himself, Mitch Landrieu, we’ve all been in communication and about the timeline in which certain portals open. I think that a major portal that is necessary to find Jackson opens in October.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe that, as you’ve said, in the past, state lawmakers have been racist in their treatment of your city?
MAYOR LUMUMBA: Yeah, well, I’ll say this. I’m not backing down from- from any, you know, characterizations that I have made. I think that they- they were made in honesty. However, I think that this is a time to focus on the solutions for our residents. When people go long- prolonged periods of time without water pressure, and even longer periods of time without an ability to consume it. They really aren’t trying to be bogged down in the political disputes that ensue–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood.
MAYOR LUMUMBA: And they just want solutions and that’s, that’s what we’re focused on.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood and we will continue to track what is happening in Jackson. Good luck to you, Mr. Mayor. We’ll be right back.