Much has changed in in the majority black city of Ferguson, Mo., since a Justice Department report last month detailed racism and “unconstitutional policing” among the mostly white police force, says the Los Angeles Times The white police chief resigned. So did the white city manager who hired him. So did the white municipal judge whose fines on predominantly poor residents enriched the city budget. Today, voters will decide Ferguson’s future when they choose three new City Council members in the first municipal election since Michael Brown’s death on Aug. 9. The council, which will hire the next city manager, is guaranteed to gain at least one new black member, and possibly two.
Ferguson, population 21,111, is 67% black but its mayor and five out of six council members are white. The three open seats, which are selected by the town’s three wards, were vacated by white council members who decided not to run for reelection. Although at least 80 percent of adults are registered to vote, turnout in the last council election was 11.7 percent. The two candidates in Ward 3, where Brown was killed, are black. Wesley Bell, who is a community college professor as well as a municipal judge and a prosecutor in nearby suburbs, is going up against Lee Smith, a retired longtime Ferguson resident. Mayor James Knowles III was reelected unopposed early last year and for months he has refused calls to step down. A recall effort against Knowles was launched March 13, and its proponents have 60 days to gather the signatures of 15 percent of Ferguson’s voters to trigger a recall election.