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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ferguson City Council|Race in the Spotlight

FERGUSON, Mo. (CN) - A City Council election in a city of 21,000 seldom makes national news - but the city is Ferguson, and the election is today.

Three of Ferguson's six council spots are up for grabs, and no incumbents are seeking re-election.

It will be the first election since the Aug. 9, 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer that made the St. Louis suburb ground zero in the country's debate over race and excessive police force.

The racial makeup of the council is guaranteed to change, with two African-Americans vying for the 3rd Ward.

There is just one African-American council member in Ferguson, whose population is 67 percent African-American. Since Ferguson staggers elections for three-year terms, neither that council member's seat nor the mayor's seat is up for election this year.

The 1st Ward has two African-American and two Caucasian candidates; both candidates in the 2nd Ward are white.

The election has generated national interest.

The Communications Workers of America donated $7,000 for 1st Ward candidate Ella Jones, an African-American.

A coalition with the Service Employees International Union, Working Families Party, the Organization for Black Struggle and activist groups has volunteers going door to door and making phone calls encouraging votes for Lee Smith, who is black, in the 3rd Ward, and Bob Hudgins who is white, in the 2nd Ward.

"This election is about winning justice for residents of Ferguson," Dan Cantor, national director of Working Families Party, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But it's also about showing communities across America that by getting organized, people can win change and ensure that black lives matter in our democracy and in our justice system."

The City Council elections have spilled into the courtroom.

On March 18, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of an anonymous Ferguson resident who claimed a state law unconstitutionally requires people or businesses to identify themselves on City Council campaign literature. That case is pending in the Western District of Missouri.

The biggest question may be: Will Ferguson residents pay as much attention and the rest of the country?

Only 12.3 percent of Ferguson's voters participated in the April 2014 election; 11.7 percent voted in April 2013; and 8.9 percent voted in 2012, according to St. Louis County election officials.

Since the Brown shooting, political activists have focused on registering new voters, especially in the African-American community, and getting them to the polls. It is unclear how many voters in Ferguson are African-American or how many of voted in the past because St. Louis County does not keep voting records based on race.

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