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Change in Ferguson Continues as Record Turnout Adds 2 Black Members to City Council

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Ferguson has made history in the Missouri town’s first municipal election since the police shooting of Michael Brown and the release of a scathing Justice Department report documenting racially discriminatory practices by police and local courts. For the first time in Ferguson’s 120 years, the six-member City Council will have three African Americans. Ella Jones and Wesley Bell were elected with record voter turnout of nearly 30 percent in an area that usually sees about 12 percent of registered voters go to the polls. When Brown was killed last August, Ferguson’s mayor, the police chief, the city manager and the municipal judge were all white. Since the shooting, all but the mayor have resigned. The newly elected city council members will be charged with hiring their replacements. We are joined by Patricia Bynes, Democratic committeewoman of Ferguson Township. Bynes helped register residents and get out the vote, and served as a campaign manager for two candidates.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Ferguson, Missouri. Voters went to the polls Tuesday for the first time since last year’s police fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown spawned nationwide protests. On Tuesday, residents elected two new African-American candidates, Ella Jones and Wesley Bell, to the City Council. This means for the first time in Ferguson’s 120-year history, half of the council will be African-American. Until now, Dwayne James was the only was the only African-American member of the City Council, even though Ferguson is about 60 percent black.

AMY GOODMAN: When Michael Brown was killed last August, Ferguson’s mayor, the police chief, the city manager and the municipal judge were all white. Since the shooting, all but the mayor have resigned. The newly elected city council members will be charged with hiring their replacements.

Well, for more, we go to St. Louis, where we’re joined for an update by Patricia Bynes, Democratic committeewoman of Ferguson Township. She helped register residents and get out the vote, and served as a campaign manager for two of the candidates who ran.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of this victory?

PATRICIA BYNES: Good morning. Thank you. There has been an incredible win on behalf of the community and for the candidates. For the very first time, there is an African-American woman sitting on the Ferguson City Council. And even though we’re still talking about firsts in 2015 for women and for African Americans, this was clearly huge for a city with the type of history that it has. And the amount of turnout, the amount of interest, and the people that came out to vote, I think this says something very good about the community in wanting to step up and get involved.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you say something more, Patricia Bynes, about the turnout? How many people turned out, and who was involved in getting people to know, first of all, that these elections were taking place, and then to vote?

PATRICIA BYNES: Absolutely. So I believe we had about a 30 percent voter turnout, which is a much larger increase than in the past for April elections. There seems to be such very low voter turnout in some of the elections in the past, where not even a hundred people in certain wards would come out and vote.

So, there were several groups and organizations that were involved in making sure that the people who lived in Ferguson knew that there was an election. And there are people who were all over the country who can certainly take credit for making sure that they helped get people out to vote. Ever since August, there’s been a huge, huge interest in making sure that anybody who was not able to register to vote had a voter registration card in front of them. But the story of Ferguson has never really been about voter registration. People have been registered; they just have not gotten out to vote. So, the NAACP was involved. Operation Help or Hush was involved. I helped them create a program called Ferguson Alternative Spring Break, where almost 200 college students from all over the country came and spent their spring break in Ferguson, encouraging people to get involved with their community and civic education. Organization for Black Struggle, more, SEIU, the Working Families Party—I mean, there were so many organizations—the Urban League here—that were involved in making sure people got out to vote.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, given the changes, Patricia Bynes, in the City Council administration, what are some of the reforms that you think should now be undertaken in Ferguson?

PATRICIA BYNES: Well, I think the very first thing that has to happen, clearly—I think everybody almost knows this—we need to deal with the Department of Justice findings on the Ferguson Police Department and the municipal courts. That cannot be ignored. And now that there is a new council in place, I believe there will be a lot more direction in moving forward, and I think there are some strong voices and some coalitions now that can be made to help move things forward. So, that’s number one, dealing with the immediate Department of Justice finding on the police department and the municipal court.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what will be the process for choosing a new police chief, for choosing a new city manager, and where things will go from there, how much power these city council members have?

PATRICIA BYNES: Right. So, currently, right now, I know that there’s a national search going on for both. And I think that, first of all, anyone who applies to be the city manager or the police chief of Ferguson at this point in time, I think that it’s incredibly courageous, and I believe that now with a new council being able to ask questions and be involved and vet people, I think that we have an opportunity to get the right person in place to move the city in a better direction. That’s what’s needed. So I think there will be some strong voices to be able to make that happen, because this is a difficult time. I believe I said last night that anybody who even ran for office for the city at this point in time needs to be congratulated for stepping up and running. So, certainly, anyone even applying to be the city manager or the police chief, there’s opportunity here to do a lot of good. And that’s what I want to see, and that’s what many people who live in Ferguson, and even those who have been supporting the community from the outside, that’s what they want to see, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Patricia Bynes, we want to thank you for being with us, Democratic committeewoman of Ferguson Township, helped register residents get out the vote, served as campaign manager for two of the candidates who ran. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

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