Ferguson, Missouri, added two African-American representatives to the city council on Tuesday night. 30 percent of the city’s voters cast ballots in the April 7th city election. While that percentage may not sound impressive, it is more than double the normal turnout for a municipal election in the city. Voters elected two new African-Americans members to serve on the city’s council. As a result, for the first time in its 120-year history, Ferguson will have three African-Americans on the city council.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Ferguson has just one black council member on its six-seat city council. That number will increase to a more representative three of six seats, once the newly elected council members are sworn in. Ferguson’s population is roughly 2/3rds African-American, but the city government has been dominated by white politicians and administrators.
The current African-American council member, Dwayne James (2nd Ward), will be joined by Ella Jones (1st Ward) and Wesley Bell (3rd Ward), the two newly elected African-American members to the council. Jones chairs the city’s Human Rights Commission. She won decisively in a four-way race, that featured two white and two black candidates. She has long been a critic of the way the Ferguson police treat young black men in the community, so her victory will be welcomed by supporters of justice in Ferguson.
Although the higher than average turnout, and the election of two African-American candidates is encouraging, the results were not a total victory for black empowerment in Ferguson. In the 3rd Ward race, Bell, who is a municipal court judge in Velda City, defeated Lee Smith, an African-American retiree who was more closely identified with the protest community than Bell was. While Bell is also African-American, and an advocate for community policing, his position as a judge in the county aroused some suspicions with voters wanting to promote greater change in the city.
Unfortunately, in the 2nd Ward race between two white candidates, former mayor Brian Fletcher defeated independent journalist Bob Hudgins. Fletcher founded the “I Love Ferguson” campaign, while Hudgins was active in the Ferguson protest movement. Although Fletcher’s victory was disappointing for activists, the larger story was the higher turnout transforming the city council from 17 percent African-American to 50 percent African-American overnight.
Electing a more representative city council will not necessarily solve all of Ferguson’s problems. However, it is an important first step in making the city’s government more responsive to its residents. Elections matter, and in the city of Ferguson on Tuesday night, especially in the 1st Ward, black votes mattered.
Image via BET
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.