Ferguson Mayor Wins First Election Since Michael Brown's Killing

by | April 5, 2017

By Stephen Deere

The man who led Ferguson through the protests following the shooting death of Michael Brown was re-elected Tuesday.

Mayor James Knowles III beat back a challenge from City Council member Ella Jones in the first mayoral election since Brown was shot to death by a police officer in 2014, making this St. Louis suburb a household name. Knowles won more than 56 percent of the vote.

"We all want the same thing," Knowles said Tuesday night. "We're all here for the same purpose, which is our community." He said he was confident that he and Jones and the other council members will continue to work together.

Knowles, 37, served as Ferguson's public face through the intense civil unrest following Brown's death. During his campaign, he argued that he should continue leading the municipality.

"I have spent, really, the entirety of my time in office working to bring this community together to rebuild what had been damaged and destroyed," he said during the campaign. "I've been accused of many things by many people. I think most people who know me, know those things are not true."

Knowles, who manages a license fee office, is seeking his third term. He was a staunch defender of city government amid angry demonstrations at City Council meetings after the Brown shooting. He began serving on the council at age 25. He has the support of longtime residents who believed the U.S. Department of Justice unfairly targeted the city after the protests.

Jones, 62, would have been the first African-American mayor in Ferguson's 122-year history. A former Mary Kay cosmetics sales director, she has been on the City Council since 2015. She had the reluctant support of resident activists and worked behind the scenes to get an agreement with the Justice Department passed last year.

More than 70 percent of Ferguson's residents are African-American. A high turnout was thought to favor Jones. But it didn't turn out that way.

In Knowles' last contested election, he won with 1,100 votes in three-way race. His challengers earned 1,148 votes for a total of 2,248 ballots cast. On Tuesday, 3,356 people cast ballots -- a 50 percent increase.

Voters in Ferguson also overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the city's charter regulating how police use body cameras.

The amendment requires that police keep the cameras turned on while on duty, preserve the video for two years, make any video taken in public places a public record and make video not obtained in public place a closed record to the extent allowed by law. It also mandates that videos of officers using force be sent to the City Council on a monthly basis and prohibits officers from using cameras for biometric searches.

Ferguson police were donated body cameras shortly after Brown's death, but video of controversial arrests isn't always retained. The city blamed malfunctioning cameras that it has since replaced.

Incumbents win big

Knowles wasn't the only incumbent to win re-election on Tuesday.

In Chesterfield, Mayor Bob Nation won 60 percent of the vote. During his four years in office, Nation said he had cut $900,000 out of the city's $41 million budget, got legislation passed that will return roughly $280,000 of Chesterfield's sales tax money to the city and made the city more transparent.

Nation's opponent, Randy Logan, a member of the City Council, said that Nation's temper had hurt the city's relationship its neighbors and St. Louis County.

"I have served the public well," Nation said Tuesday night. "And my opponent was unable to deceive enough voters to vote for him."

In O'Fallon, Mayor Bill Hennessy defeated Councilman Bob Howell, rolling up almost 59 percent of the vote despite being outspent.

A controversial long-term contract to operate the city's trash transfer station was hotly debated during the campaign.

Howell and other council members last year chose Republic Services over the lowest bidder. Hennessy's two vetoes of the selection were overridden.

Meanwhile, three other mayoral incumbents in St. Charles County also were re-elected: Kathy Schweikert in Lake Saint Louis, Don Licklider in Weldon Spring and David Zucker in Dardenne Prairie.

David Carson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

(c)2017 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch