FERGUSON, Mo. – The next Ferguson City Council will face the daunting task of remaking much of the beleaguered town’s leadership, a process that will begin soon after Tuesday’s municipal election.
Three of the six council seats are up for grabs in the St. Louis County town where 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black, was fatally shot by a white Ferguson police officer in August. Officer Darren Wilson was cleared of wrongdoing by a grand jury and the Justice Department, but a separate DOJ report blasted Ferguson for racial bias and profiling in the police department and a profit-driven municipal court system.
Fallout from that report led to the resignation of the city manager, police chief, municipal judge and two police officers. The municipal court clerk was fired for racist emails.
The new city council will be tasked with approving hiring of the replacements.
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The scrutiny of Ferguson after the shooting found that the town of 21,000 residents has a mostly white police force and city leadership – the mayor and five of the six council members are white – even though blacks make up about two-thirds of residents.
After Tuesday, the council will add at least one, and maybe two black members.
The lone current black councilman, Dwayne James, is not up for re-election. The 3rd Ward race involves two black men, Lee Smith, 76, and Wesley Bell, 40, guaranteeing that an additional black resident will join the council. That ward includes the Canfield Green apartment complex where Brown was killed.
The 1st Ward features four candidates, two black and two white. The 2nd Ward race involves two white men.
Ferguson is not unique in drawing low turnout for municipal elections. Turnout last April was 12.3 percent, said Eric Fey, director of elections for St. Louis County.
A strong push was made after the shooting to register more black voters, but Fey said just 562 new voters were added to the rolls. In recent weeks, the focus has been on getting those who are registered to vote.
U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, a St. Louis Democrat, was among those going door-to-door over the weekend, encouraging people to vote.
The election is being watched by international media and is drawing get-out-the-vote volunteers involved with several national organizations, including labor unions, groups such as the Organization for Black Struggle, and Working Families Party, a leading voice of the left that helped elect New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last year.