Who was Eric Mays? Tributes pour in as outspoken Flint Councilman dies at 65 - Hindustan Times

Who was Eric Mays? Outspoken Flint Councilman known for activism in city water crisis dies at 65

ByShweta Kukreti
Feb 26, 2024 05:38 PM IST

Flint city council member Eric Mays, who was well-known for his advocacy during water crisis and disruptive conduct at public hearings, passed away on Saturday.

Flint city council member Eric Mays, who was well-known for his advocacy during the water crisis and disruptive conduct at public hearings, passed away on Saturday at the age of 65.

Flint city council member Eric Mays died on Saturday.(AP )
Flint city council member Eric Mays died on Saturday.(AP )

The City officials made the announcement on Facebook but did not provide a cause of death. They said the flag at Flint City Hall will be lowered to half-staff in honour of Mays, who was first elected in 2013.

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He was "beloved for his bold and courageous service on behalf of Flint’s First Ward, and his strong presence will be deeply missed," the City of Flint said on Facebook.

‘Will miss his leadership and support’

Even political opponents, like Mayor Sheldon Neeley, praised Mays, calling his death "a tremendous loss for our community and a shock to all friends and family."

"This is a tremendous loss for our community and a shock to all friends and family," Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said. "As our community grieves during this difficult time, on behalf of Councilman Mays' family, we ask that community members respect their privacy and allow them time and space to mourn. We continue to lift the family in prayer."

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US Representative Dan Kildee, who graduated from Flint Northern High School with Mays in 1976, recalled fond memories with him.

"Councilman Mays loved serving Flint on the City Council, and his constituents continuously re-elected him because of his bold and unwavering voice," Kildee stated on Facebook. "Our lifelong friendship always sustained through the politics of the day."

Fourth Ward Council Member Judy Priestly stated that the city and First Ward people will miss Mays.

"I never doubted that he cared about the city and his constituents. He was an advocate for his constituents, and I know the First Ward will miss his leadership and support," Priestly said.

In a statement, Flint City Council President Ladel Lewis said Mays “was not only a dedicated public servant but also a tireless champion for the people of Flint.” “His unwavering commitment to the betterment of our community has left an indelible mark, and his absence will be deeply felt by all who had the privilege of knowing him.”

Who was Eric Mays? A well-known political figure who faced multiple controversies

Eric Mays, a political lightning rod who represented some of the Flint's poorest people, has left behind a legacy of fearless advocacy and a common touch that resonated with people who elected him thrice to stand up for their interests in Flint City Hall.

Mays, a pastor's son, was born to the late Rev. Louis H. and Rosie B. Mays. He attended Flint Northern High School and Michigan State University before retiring from General Motors, where he polished his political abilities as a district committeeperson and recording secretary for local United Auto Workers (UAW) unions.

Mays' political clout expanded over the last decade, and he amassed a huge social media following after videos showing him confronting with other council members went viral.

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He was the longest-serving member of the current council, having been elected by a mere seven votes in 2013. He additionally formed groups to run for mayor in 2008, 2015, and 2022.

In 2016, Flint locals told The Detroit News that Mays was one of the first elected leaders to raise concerns about Flint's water quality.

Mays' death comes at a time when he was serving a 90-day suspension for "conduct unbecoming a council member". He called the punishment "unjust "and battled against until his death.

After a judge rejected his plea for a temporary injunction to stop the discipline in January, a constituent filed her own lawsuit, arguing that Mays' suspension violated both her constitutional rights and her lone voice in local government.

Mays' political style was unusual and persistently combative. He spoke in a deep, resounding voice and utilised it to battle against overwhelming odds on a variety of topics.

In recent past, he even sued Neeley, the city, the police chief, and city council, claiming that his political rivals treated him unfairly and reprimanded him harsher than his colleagues.

He also faced legal and political obstacles, including two pending recall campaigns, a Michigan State Police inquiry into a GoFundMe account set up to cover rising legal expenses, and a wage garnishment after a federal judge rejected one lawsuit against Neeley and directed Mays to repay the city for its legal expenditures.

He was recognised for his bold political actions, such as frequently using the Nazi salute while referring to a previous council member as Hitler, and ended up in Hurley Medical Center following a bar fight with Neeley's former deputy chief of staff.

In 2016, he was sentenced to jail for drunk driving after being discovered next to a disabled car on I-475 facing the wrong way in 2013.

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