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In Ferguson, Some Voters Hope City Council Election Brings Change


In any other year, local elections in Missouri might be considered a sleepy affair, especially in the spring. But in Ferguson, with the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown last August and the riots, protest and international attention that followed, that's not the case this year. Currently, one member of the city council is African-American. Three other seats on the council are up for grabs, all held by incumbents who are white. They are not seeking re-election. This holds promise for those who want to see more African-Americans in city leadership. Earlier, I spoke with Jo Mannies of St. Louis Public Radio about what's at stake.

JO MANNIES, BYLINE: There are three wards that will be up. In one of the wards, both the candidates are African-American. In one of the wards, it's one white, one black. In one of the wards, there are four candidates, two white and two black. So whatever happens on Tuesday, the council is guaranteed to get at least one more African-American than what it has now.

CORNISH: Can you gives us a sense of a candidate who maybe has grown directly out of the protest, someone who's platform and even interest in joining the council comes directly from that time?

MANNIES: The second ward race features a former broadcaster, who is white, by the way. His name is Bob Hudgins, and he's been very prominent in the protest movement. He is running in part because of all the involvement that he had during the months right after the Michael Brown shooting. And in many of the other ward races, such as the first ward, where there are four candidates, all four of them said that they're in it because of what was going on - the protests. Now, at least one of the candidates is pro-police and is there to kind of defend what he feels is a disparaging of how city government had been run.

CORNISH: All of this focus has been on the racial makeup of the leadership of Ferguson. How much has that been part of the conversation of this election?

MANNIES: Well, I think many of the activists, many of the groups and the members of Congress who've been in town - they do want to see more African-Americans elected to office. Now, a couple key things about demographics - although about two-thirds of the population of Ferguson is African-American, the voter population is actually closer to 50/50 because many of the white residents that are in Ferguson are older, and most of them are registered. So that is something that has affected the results, as well.

CORNISH: In all of your candidate interviews, did anyone say anything that surprised you?

MANNIES: Well, one of the things that was particularly interesting is Wesley Bell, who's a lawyer and a professor. He's also an African-American. He said, I don't want to look back two or three years from now and say, hey, this was a missed opportunity. I want to look back and say, we set an example. They've all really thought about it, but I think that he put it in a very insightful way.

CORNISH: That's Jo Mannies of St. Louis Public Radio. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MANNIES: Well, thank you for asking me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.