Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Ferguson City Council Analysis

Originally published in Red Racing Horses.

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One set of races RRH did not cover last night were city council elections in Ferguson, Missouri. I previewed those races last month.
Ferguson will hold city council elections April 7th, and three open seat races will provide a barometer for their success.
  • In Ward 1, four candidates filed for an open seat: Ella Jones, Adrienne Hawkins, Doyle McClellan, and Mike McGrath. Hawkins was inspired to run by the protests. Jones is a member of the city's Human Rights Commission and the president of a local Democrat club in Ferguson. The other two candidates, McClellan and McGrath, are white. McClellan moved to Ferguson two years ago and is looking to run a centrist campaign, while there is not anything online about McGrath (he appears to be affialiated with a volunteer police program in Ferguson). Ward 1 is centered on the northeastern segment of the city, which is higher income than other parts of town (particularly in the northwestern part of the ward).
  • In Ward 2, Bob Hudgins faces former Mayor Brian Fletcher. Fletcher is apparently a Democrat and counts himself as a progressive, started an "I Love Ferguson" campaign in the wake of the protests to improve the city's image. Ward 2, centered along South Florissant Road, includes the more prosperous downtown section of town. Hudgins has aligned himself with protesters in the race.
  • In Ward 3, retiree Lee Smith faces Wesley Bell. It contains the poorest southeast corner of Ferguson where Michael Brown lived. Both candidates are black, but Bell is a local municipal judge (Critics say he is part of the local legal problems, while he says he was an early reform proponent). This ward is normally incredibly low turnout and is the biggest target for protesters looking for a win.
Municipal turnout is typically low and similar to other cities with off-year elections: 12.3% in 2013, 11.7% in 2011, and 8.9% in 2009.
Results came in last night.
  • Ward 1 (1619)
    • Jones 49.91% (808)
    • McGrath 23.66% (383)
    • Hawkins 13.22% (214)
    • McClellan 13.22% (214)
  • Ward 2 (1373)
    • Fletcher 57.98% (796)
    • Hudgins 42.02% (577)
  • Ward 3 (736)
    • Bell 67.12% (494)
    • Smith 32.88% (242)
Total turnout was about 29%, a major jump from the last several municipal elections. The Washington Post has a nice chart illustrating the turnout difference.

While media reports stressed the fact that two (Jones and Bell) of the three new council members are black, I don't think that's a very helpful angle. Bell's race in Ward 3, for example, was the top target for protesters because it contained the most marginalized neighborhoods in Ferguson. Further, Bell's status as a municipal judge in a neighboring town tied him closer to the causes of unrest in Ferguson, creating a contrast for the election. However, Bell won the strongest victory Tuesday among city council candidates.

Similarly, while Jones remained friendly with protesters, she decided to run long before the Ferguson protests began. In fact, the most striking similarity between the three victors is that each had the strongest political resume in their races: a Democratic club leader and city commission member, a former mayor, and a local judge and lawyer. So despite significant coverage and outside resources poured into the races, the only major success for those associated with the protests was the increased voter turnout. In a city racked by distrust, that should count as a big victory.

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