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Ferguson holding local elections; black representation could triple

By Andrew V. Pestano
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Ferguson holding local elections; black representation could triple
Yard signs for Ferguson, Missouri City Council candidates sit outside of a home in Ferguson, Missouri on April 6, 2015. Voters will go to the polls on April 7, 2014 with an opportunity to put as many as three African Americans on the City Council for the first time in the city's history. Ferguson became a household word after the August 2014 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the riots that followed. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI. | License Photo

FERGUSON, Mo., April 7 (UPI) -- Voters in Ferguson, Mo., go to the polls today to fill three City Council seats in campaigns marked by political and social unrest that originated with the shooting death of Michael Brown last fall.

Three of the council's seven seats, including the mayor's job, are on the ballot, with black candidates running for two of them. The council's one sitting African-American member is not up for re-election.

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Both candidates in one race for are black, so the number of black council members will at least double. There has never been more than one black city council member in Ferguson.

Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, was killed last fall by a white police officer, an incident that sparked protests and an investigation into the city's police and judicial system. The Department of Justice released a scathing report criticizing racial discrimination by the Ferguson Police Department, leading to the resignation of former Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

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"The whole world is watching, and we have one shot to get this right," Adrienne Hawkins, 46, a black federal government worker who is running said.

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Police and political representation in Ferguson has historically been in favor of whites than blacks, regardless of the fact that blacks represent two-thirds of the city's population.

Wesley Bell, 40, is black and a criminal justice instructor and municipal judge. He is running against another black candidate, Lee Smith, for one seat.

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"You cannot have sustainable change without political access," Bell said. "For far too long, African Americans didn't get involved enough in the process and as a result we get ignored."

About 500 people have registered to vote in Ferguson since August, an increase of less than 4 percent. If this year's elections are similar to previous ones, of the almost 15,000 eligible voters in Ferguson, less than a quarter are expected to cast ballots.

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