Fer­gu­son elec­tion triples num­ber of blacks on city coun­cil


Two black can­di­dates were among three peo­ple elected to the Fer­gu­son City Coun­cil Tues­day, tripling African-Amer­i­can rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the St. Louis sub­urb where poor race re­la­tions have been a fo­cal point since the Au­gust shoot­ing death of an 18-year-old black man by a white po­lice of­fi­cer.

The elec­tion means that half of the six-mem­ber city coun­cil in Fer­gu­son, a town where two-thirds of the 21,000 res­i­dents are black, will now be African-Amer­i­can. The lone black in­cum­bent coun­cil­man was not up for re-elec­tion. The mayor, who could break any tie votes, is white.

Voter turnout

in­creased sub- stan­tially from the pre­vi­ous elec­tion fol­low­ing a strong get-out-thevote ef­fort from la­bor unions and other na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions. The town that drew only 12.3 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers last April had 29.4 per­cent turnout Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to the St. Louis County Board of Elec­tions. That was about dou­ble the over­all turnout in St. Louis County, where Fer­gu­son is lo­cated.

Unof­fi­cial re­sults showed that Wes­ley Bell de­feated an­other black can­di­date to win in the 3rd Ward. Ella Jones de­feated an­other black can­di­date and two white can­di­dates in the 1st Ward. Brian Fletcher, a for­mer mayor who is white, won a 2nd Ward race against an­other white can­di­date.

It was the first mu­nic­i­pal elec- tion in Fer­gu­son since of­fi­cer Dar­ren Wil­son fa­tally shot Michael Brown, who was black and un­armed, on Aug. 9. The shoot­ing sparked some­times vi­o­lent protests in the St. Louis area, and spawned a na­tional “Black Lives Mat­ter” move­ment to press for change in how po­lice deal with lo­cal mi­nori­ties. A St. Louis County grand jury de­cided not to in­dict Wil­son on any charges re­lated to Brown’s killing.

It also prompted a re­view by the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment, which de­cided not to pros­e­cute Wil­son, who re­signed in Novem­ber. But the fed­eral depart­ment re­leased a scathing re­port blast­ing the city for racial bias and pro­fil­ing in the po­lice depart­ment and a profit-driven mu­nic­i­pal court sys­tem. Sev­eral city of­fi­cials re­signed fol­low­ing the re­view, in­clud­ing the city manager, po­lice chief and mu­nic­i­pal judge. The mu­nic­i­pal court clerk was fired for racist emails.

The new city coun­cil will be tasked with ap­prov­ing hir­ing of the re­place­ments.

The scru­tiny in the wake of the shoot­ing also found that the city had a mostly white po­lice force and city lead­er­ship — the mayor also is white.

In the race for the 3rd Ward, which in­cludes the apart­ment com­plex where Brown was killed, Bell, 40, eas­ily de­feated 76-yearold re­tiree Lee Smith. Bell is a lawyer and a crim­i­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor who had to de­fend him­self be­cause of a third job — mu­nic­i­pal judge in a neigh­bor­ing town of Velda City that, like Fer­gu­son, de­rives a large per­cent­age of its bud­get from mu­nic­i­pal court fines. Smith had the sup­port of sev­eral na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions whose vol­un­teers went door-to-door on his be­half.

Jones had sup­port of a la­bor union and won eas­ily in her fourper­son race. Fletcher, the for­mer mayor who started the “I Love Fer­gu­son” cam­paign af­ter the un­rest that rav­aged the com­mu­nity, also won eas­ily in the 2nd Ward.

A strong push was made af­ter the shoot­ing to reg­is­ter more black vot­ers last year, but just 562 new vot­ers were added to the rolls. In re­cent weeks, the fo­cus has been on get­ting those who are reg­is­tered to vote.

The high turnout came de­spite stormy weather, in­clud­ing light­ning and heavy rain.

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