Ferguson Mayor James Knowles and Councilwoman Ella Jones made something perfectly clear Tuesday night: The city’s mayoral election is over, and there’s no schism between the two elected officials.
Two weeks after Knowles beat Jones, both candidates vowed to work together over the next three years to repair the financial hardships and racial divides that were exposed in the aftermath of Michael Brown's fatal 2014 shooting.
“I don’t know if I would say we see things differently,” Knowles said. “I would say that many of us have different pathway to get where we all want to be: Which is a community that truly comes together.”
Added Jones: “I’m a tennis player. It was a good match. There’s no division, people. We’re here to work together.”
Ferguson’s mayor doesn’t have a lot of formal power, as the city manager runs the town’s day-to-day operations.
But Knowles noted that the election clearly caught the interest of Ferguson residents. Eric Fey of the St. Louis County Board of Elections said that nearly 29 percent of Ferguson residents voted, which is a better turnout than either of the two other elections that Knowles won.
In the next three years, Knowles is expected to help the city adhere to a federal consent decree, which made major changes to how his police department is trained and does its job. (And should U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decide to do away with such consent decrees after a review, Knowles will have to help figure out how to move forward.)
Knowles also will have to deal with a tenuous budget situation, especially after the city collected less revenue from fines over the past couple of years. He and other city officials will have to make sure the Ferguson Police Department is fully staffed.
He also wants to work to develop West Florissant Avenue, a business district in a predominantly African-American part of Ferguson that was often the site of violent clashes between police and protesters.
“I’d like to see some of developers that are looking at that area to really do some serious land acquisition and clearance, and really start to see the beginnings of some new commercial buildings take hold over there,” Knowles said. “[I want to] obviously maintain the stability and the sustainability of our city as a whole. The financial sustainability, continuing to make sure we have a strong tax base.”
On top of all of that, there's the “reconciliation” process he'll need to attend to.
“There’s always individuals that are going to feel like they’re on the winning side or the losing side,” Knowles said. “As I tried to impress upon people, that’s not the way we should look at anything that goes on in our community. We should looking at everything in our community, every improvement and every reform, as a victory for the entire community.”
Ferguson’s city charter bars Knowles from running for another term.
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