On Tuesday, Ferguson, Mo. elected two African American candidates to the city council, making half of the six-person council African American for the first time in history.
With black residents comprising 67 percent of Ferguson’s population, the new council will more accurately represent the city's racial demographic. One the questions this council faces: Can they do a better job at addressing the tense race relations that rocked the city in the past year?
This was the first election following the fatal Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, an event that sparked protests across the nation and demands for police reform. African American candidates Wesley Bell and Ella Jones will now join the council, along with white candidate and former Ferguson mayor Brian Fletcher. The three winning candidates beat out five others, some of which were well known for their activism and support of reform.
“We want to see some color on the police force, some color on the city council, some color in the courts and more diversity — just more fairness, period,” said Terry Brady, who voted in the municipal election for the first time, according to the New York Times.
Tuesday’s elections saw a greater voter turnout than in previous years. Nearly 30 percent of registered voters came to the polls, compared to only 12.3 percent in the previous election. The high voter turnout — in spite of the bad weather — was partly attributed to door-to-door campaigning and last-minute efforts to get voters to the polls.
“We knocked on doors. We were all about community outreach and staying positive,” Mr. Bell, who won 67 percent of votes against one other candidate, told St. Louis Public Radio. “And it brought out the highest turnout in the history of Ward 3 . . . That's what I'm most proud about – that we reached out to citizens. Residents who have not felt a part of the process.”
The higher turnout is also a reflection of the importance placed upon this election.
“As for this election, it’s extremely important with all the turmoil and tension we’ve had this year in Ferguson,” voter Sharon Bell-Price of Ferguson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Before the election, incumbent councilman Dwayne James was the sole black member of the council. Now that three of the six members are African American, many are waiting to see what progress the council can bring to the city.
Ms. Jones is currently the head of the city’s Human Rights commission, and she received 50 percent of the votes for her ward after running against three other candidates. She said she ran “partly because of the way she witnessed young black men being treated by police,” reported the Post-Dispatch.
“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 and do the work we need to do to build our city,” Jones told St. Louis Public Radio.
The new council will be responsible for addressing some of the city's racial tensions and the recent report released by the U.S. Department of Justice that showed a history of widespread racial discrimination in the police department. They will need to hire a new city manager, municipal judge, and police chief, all of whom resigned after the Justice Department released its report. They will also have to address the abuses that occurred.
“In addition to changing law enforcement policies, the Council, in order to avoid a lawsuit against the city, will have to negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department over the abuses federal prosecutors said they found during a months long investigation. Many of the changes recommended by federal authorities could be very costly,” reported The New York Times.
With a more proportional representation of Ferguson’s demographic, the new council is hopeful that more progress will be made to create a better city by accurately representing its constituents.
“I think we made tremendous progress tonight,” Mr. Fletcher, who won 57 percent of votes against one other candidate, told St. Louis Public Radio. “I mean, we've moved like a century's worth of past history in one night.”
This article contains reporting from the Associated Press.