Historic Ferguson Election Adds More African-Americans To City Council

Apr 8, 2015
Originally published on April 8, 2015 12:20 pm
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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And let's go now to the place that's become a byword for such killings, Ferguson. Now months after an unarmed 18-year-old black man was killed by a police officer there leading to massive protests, this Missouri city has held a vote that will alter the racial composition of its city council. St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum reports.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: Two black candidates, Ella Jones and Wesley Bell, captured Ferguson City Council seats that were previously held by white councilmen. Tuesday's election increases the number of African-Americans on the council to three. It's a major breakthrough for the majority-black town that's been heavily criticized for having a largely white city government. Ferguson City Council races received an unprecedented amount of media attention in the wake of Michael Brown's shooting death, which may be why turnout spiked to nearly 30 percent, a much higher number than usual for local elections. The election marked a big turning point for the city, said Ella Jones, one of Tuesday's winners.

ELLA JONES: For some people, it means hope, some people, it means a new face for Ferguson. And for some people, it means that it's time for us to get together.

ROSENBAUM: But the results may not be the dramatic change activists were looking for. While Jones received backing from protest groups, Wesley Bell did not. And none of the winners are in favor of disbanding Ferguson's police department, which some national leaders had called for. Bell, who won his seat by a landslide, says he understands the protesters' passions. But he says it's time to translate anger into policy change.

WESLEY BELL: On those streets, when you saw these young people, man, there was pain. I get that. I understand that. But the thing is we can't give into it. And some people did, but, you know, today we didn't.

ROSENBAUM: First on the new council's agenda is to select a city manager to run the town's day-to-day operations. The previous administrator resigned after being named in a scathing Department of Justice report about the city's policing practices. The longtime civil rights activist Betty Thompson says the newly elected officials will be up to the challenges the city faces. She says the infusion of diversity into the council will help.

BETTY THOMPSON: You can't be absent from the table and tell me what I need better than myself because nobody - when everything is over, nobody is going to save us from us for us but us.

ROSENBAUM: The council members will take office later this month. For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.