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Three Blacks to sit on Ferguson City Council

By Lauren Victoria Burke
On April 20, 2015
Wesley Bell

Wesley Bell among three Blacks elected to council seats in the wake of Ferguson racial unrest.
Credit: Jamelle Bouie/Creative Commons

After last Tuesday’s vote, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, will have three Black members on its City Council for the first time in Ferguson’s history. 

Although it rained for much of Election Day, voter turnout was close to three times higher than what it was for the last City Council election in 2013. Many are saying that Tuesday’s turnout was the highest ever for a municipal election. 

Ella Jones and Wesley Bell, both victorious last night, will join Dwayne James as the three African Americans to sit on the six-person Ferguson City Council. The council has never had more than one Black member in its 121-year history, and Jones is the first Black woman ever elected. 

Jones, who won Ward 1, received more votes, 824, than her two White male challengers combined.    

And Jones wasn’t the only Black woman to win big on Tuesday. For the first time in history, the neighboring city of Jennings, Missouri, which is 85 percent Black, will have an African-American mayor, Yolanda Fountain Henderson. In addition, Courtney Graves was elected to the Ferguson-Florissant school board after beating incumbent Brian Elbert. 

“From what I’ve seen today, the community became empowered and came out. That is a win,” tweeted Ferguson Democratic Committeewoman Patricia Bynes as polls closed. 

Bob Hudgins, a White resident who joined in Ferguson’s protests against police brutality, lost his bid to represent mostly White Ward 2 on the City Council. He was defeated by former Ferguson Mayor Brian Fletcher.   

Bynes congratulated Fletcher and said, “Everyone is looking forward toward moving forward in a better direction.” 

Ella Jones

Ella Jones won her bid for Ferguson’s council seat in Ward 1,
a first for the city.
Credit: Facebook/Friends of Ella M. Jones

Had Hudgins emerged victorious, the council would have leaned 4-2 against Mayor James Knowles, whom some residents want to see ousted. But the 3-3 split is major progress toward more equal representation in a city that is 67 percent Black. An effort to recall Knowles – launched when five residents formed a committee in March to collect signatures for a recall – is currently under way. The group has two months to collect approximately 1,800 signatures, or 15 percent of the total number of eligible voters from the last mayoral election, to force a recall.  

Yesterday’s spring elections were the first since the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown in August. The vote coincided with an eerie reminder of Brown’s death, this time out of South Carolina, where yet another Black man, Walter Scott, 50, was shot to death at the hands of a White police officer, Michael Slager.

    The new Ferguson City Council, which takes over in two weeks, will have a full workload and several benchmark decisions on its agenda. 

“There’s a lot of work in front of them as far as picking the police chief, dealing with the DOJ report and getting to a consent decree. There’s a lot to do, and I look forward to working with them,” said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) to The Root. Ferguson is in the district that Clay represents in Congress.

The council must also select a new city manager and municipal judge, both of whom resigned, along with Chief of Police Tom Jackson, in the wake of a critical Department of Justice report that implicated the officials in a wide-ranging scheme of racially biased public extortion focused on fines and ticketing to raise revenue. 

Clay also said that the various turnout efforts undertaken before the election “expanded the universe” of voters and created a path for victory for several candidates. Labor groups such as the Communications Workers of America and the Service Employees International Union knocked on doors and helped with get-out-the-vote efforts on the ground in Ferguson. Five members of the Congressional Black Caucus also donated money to assist the campaigns of Ferguson City Council candidates.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a Washington, D.C.-based political reporter who writes the Crew of 42 blog. Follow her on Twitter.

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