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Ferguson once again in the spotlight as April 7 election gets closer

Three seats on the Ferguson City Council will be up for grabs on April 7. Eight candidates are running for the spots, including four African-Americans.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
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A coalition of community organizations and unions out to revamp the Ferguson City Council are planning a door-to-door effort over the next 10 days to woo voters to back the group’s favored candidates on April 7.

In a statement, the coalition says it’s out to help “candidates who are committed to fighting for racial justice.”

The effort reflects the ongoing tensions in Ferguson, which erupted with unrest last summer following the police shooting that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The coalition includes the Organization for Black Struggle, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), and the state council for the Service Employees International Union.

The group also is getting some help from the Working Families Party, a progressive party that was active in the New York mayor’s race on behalf of Democrat Bill DeBlasio, who won.

In Ferguson, the coalition is focusing on the eight candidates competing for three spots on the seven-person council (including the mayor).  Critics have zeroed in on the elected council, in part because it has had only one African-American member, even though about two-thirds of Ferguson's residents are black.

The coalition is supporting  Lee Smith in the 3rd Ward and Bob Hudgins in the 2nd Ward.

Smith, a retired factory worker, is competing against Wesley Bell, a criminal-justice professor.  Hudgins is a former radio broadcaster who’s competing against former Ferguson mayor Brian Fletcher.

The coalition has made no endorsement in the crowded four-way 1st Ward contest. The candidates are Ella M. Jones, Doyle McClellan, Adrienne J. Hawkins, and Mike McGrath.

A coalition spokesman said they are endorsing those candidates deemed most likely to press for changes in how the city runs its police department and its municipal courts.

“The current leadership in the city has created a police department that is violent, hyperactive and unaccountable, and they’ve been unwilling or unable to fix it,” said Kellie Willis, a member of the Organization for Black Struggle. “We’re going to work hard to elect new leaders who will.”

Reginald Rounds, a member of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, cited the critical report by the federal Justice Department. “We need new leaders in the city who will make sure the job of the police is to protect our neighborhoods, not to harass and penalize us,” Rounds said.

So far, no rival groups appear to be campaigning in Ferguson.  But that could change as it gets closer to April 7.

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.

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