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Tuesday's 3-way Race For Ferguson City Council Draws Attention


It was nearly five years ago a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., shot and killed a black 18-year-old named Michael Brown. Brown's mother, Lezley McSpadden, is now running for a seat on the Ferguson City Council in an election tomorrow. Here's Rachel Lippmann from St. Louis Public Radio.

RACHEL LIPPMANN, BYLINE: The council looks much different than it did in August 2014. Back then, there was just one black councilman in a city that is majority black; the mayor was also white. James Knowles is still in office, but the six-person council now has three black and three white members. It's a huge shift, and if McSpadden wins, the board would have a black majority for the first time. On the day she announced last August, supporters called the decision historic. She outlined three priorities she wanted to focus on.


LEZLEY MCSPADDEN: It's community policing...


MCSPADDEN: ...Economic equality...



MCSPADDEN: ...And access to health care for all of Ferguson's young children...


MCSPADDEN: ...And everyday people.

LIPPMANN: The council plays a critical role in monitoring how well the city is doing at making those mandated reforms. It's a task McSpadden says she's more than up to.

MCSPADDEN: And I've been kind of watching them with, like, an eagle's eye to make sure that they comply with the consent decree that was put in place, and that we never have a repeat of August 9.

LIPPMANN: McSpadden likely has the best name recognition of the three candidates running in the 3rd Ward. But for some residents like Latasha Brown (ph), that's not enough.

LATASHA BROWN: The most common thing that I heard - where is she?

LIPPMANN: Brown is not related to Michael Brown. She lives in the apartment complex where he was shot and killed and walks past his memorial every day. She is also an advocate for the residents of Ferguson's five large apartment complexes.

BROWN: She's not involved. She's not engaged with the community. Part of this community's problem is that we weren't engaged with our city politics. We didn't know what was going on or how decisions were made for us.

LIPPMANN: Fran Griffin, one of McSpadden's opponents, also argues that the 3rd Ward needs a stronger advocate. It's the city's poorest, and though it's overwhelmingly black, it did not elect a black council member until 2015.

FRAN GRIFFIN: There are a lot of plans that are coming down the pipeline at this point. And my concern is that the people in the community's voices will not be heard if we don't have proper representation on that board.

LIPPMANN: Griffin and McSpadden are challenging the incumbent Keith Kallstrom. Kallstrom, who is white, has been on the council for 16 of the last 25 years. He defends his record of representing the community.

KEITH KALLSTROM: I want to get it right. I want to be fair for everybody, not just one race or another race.

LIPPMANN: Griffin and Kallstrom say they're campaigning for the seat, not running against McSpadden, although both openly question if she's qualified. McSpadden has a very simple response.


MCSPADDEN: If a mother had to watch her son lay in the street for 4 1/2 hours and watch a community be completely disrespected by elected officials that we elected, what would you do? You would stand up and you would fight, too.

LIPPMANN: When I'm elected, she says, they will learn to respect us. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Lippmann.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report we mistakenly say that if Lezley McSpadden is elected to the Ferguson city council, it will be the first time that board has a black majority. In fact, there was a black majority on the city council for a few months in early 2016.]

(SOUNDBITE OF DISTANT.LO'S "SILHOUETTE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 1, 2019 at 10:00 PM MDT
In this report we mistakenly say that if Lezley McSpadden is elected to the Ferguson City Council, it will be the first time that board will have a black majority. In fact, there was a black majority on the city council for a few months in early 2016.
Lippmann returned to her native St. Louis after spending two years covering state government in Lansing, Michigan. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and followed (though not directly) in Maria Altman's footsteps in Springfield, also earning her graduate degree in public affairs reporting. She's also done reporting stints in Detroit, Michigan and Austin, Texas. Rachel likes to fill her free time with good books, good friends, good food, and good baseball.