Ferguson mayor re-elected in his first race since Michael Brown killing

The Missouri city of Ferguson, which became a national flashpoint of racial dysfunction, voted to retain its incumbent mayor in the first mayoral election since protests erupted nearly three years ago after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.

Black city councilwoman Ella Jones was running against white incumbent Mayor James Knowles. On Tuesday, he won with 57% of the vote compared with Jones’ 43%, according to the St. Louis County election board.

Days before the election, Knowles made his case on why he was running for another term in the St. Louis suburb.

“I want the next chapter of the story of Ferguson to be one of hope and success. A story of neighbors who came together to overcome differences, to make positive changes, to discover that we are better together,” he posted on social media this week.

Face of Ferguson

Protests erupted in Ferguson after white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, after a struggle on August 9, 2014.

A grand jury later cleared Wilson of wrongdoing, leading to more tension and unrest.

As mayor, Knowles was the public face of Ferguson as the city became the epicenter of the larger national debate about policing in African-American communities.

Ferguson’s struggle to reinvent itself

Ferguson is small — roughly 20,000 residents. It’s 67% black and 29% white.

Despite its demographics, its leadership was mostly white until tensions erupted three years ago. Since then, some of its top officials have been replaced by a new generation of black leaders, including the police chief and city manager.

If Jones had won, she’d have been the city’s first black mayor, and added to the city’s effort to close the racial gap between residents and the city government.

Newspaper’s endorsement

In the days leading up to the election, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch endorsed the incumbent, saying his handling of the city during the unrest was a big factor.

“Two-term incumbent Knowles has the experience required to guide the city through the difficult compliance stipulations of a federal consent decree after the 2014 police-involved shooting death of teenager Michael Brown. The challenger, Ella Jones, has not even finished her first full term as a city council member,” the paper said in an editorial.

Jones did not articulate her vision for Ferguson as well as Knowles did, according to the paper.

Tough road ahead

Knowles will be at the helm of a city struggling to regain its footing after Brown’s shooting and ensuing compliance measures.

Shortly after the unrest, an investigation by the Justice Department found the city’s police and municipal court system had disproportionately targeted African-American residents.

The city was forced to fix its municipal court system and seek other ways to get funds other than from issuing tickets that mostly targeted black residents.

Just about every branch of Ferguson government — police, municipal court, city hall — participated in “unlawful” targeting of African-American residents, the Justice Department concluded in 2015.

“Knowles has immersed himself in the rigorous Justice Department negotiating process,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said. “He is not starry-eyed about what the mayor’s office can deliver under tight budgetary constraints.”

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