Activist Wesley Bell elected St. Louis prosecutor; Michael Brown’s mother sets council run
In this June 30, 2018, photo, Wesley Bell, then a candidate for St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, addresses a protest about the Trump Administration's policy of family separation and detention at Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis. In last week's Democratic primary, Bell beat St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch, a seven-term incumbent. | David Carson / St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP

ST. LOUIS—In the words of Bob Dylan, “the times they are-a-changin’.” And it could not come sooner to Missouri.

Proposition A (right-to-work) crashed and burned—a relief for the thousands of union and non-union working people here, and St. Louis County voters elected Wesley Bell—Ferguson City Councilmember, attorney, and activist—as their county prosecutor.

It was a stunning upset in the Democratic primary and sees seven-term county prosecutor Bob McCulloch exit stage right with only a tarnished legacy left behind.

“When we went into this campaign, the mindset that we had, I should say, was that we were going to focus on the issues,” Bell said. “We wanted to give people a reason to be inspired to go to the polls as opposed to the fear and antagonism that we see with a lot of elected officials, and that message resonated.”

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, Wesley Bell stands outside the Ferguson, Mo., police headquarters a day after he defeated longtime St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch in the Democratic primary. Bell’s 57 percent to 43 percent victory over McCulloch, a white prosecutor first elected in 1990, is the latest win for the Black Lives Matter movement, which has increasingly shifted from protest to local politics in recent years. Voters concerned with the killing of unarmed black people by police have made their voices heard from Ferguson to Cleveland to Chicago. | Jim Salter / AP

While some political analysts viewed his victory with disbelief, you have only to look up from the streets of Ferguson, not down, to see a community ready for real change. And that—the promise to deliver change to policing in the community—was the message taken to every single voters’ door.

On the fourth anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing, Thursday, August 9, Michael Brown Sr., surrounded by family, friends, and community, paid tribute to his son and saw hope once again.

“The whole city is happy that Wesley Bell made it in. We get a chance to get a fair trial,” said Brown Sr.

That weekend, Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, announced on Canefield Drive—where her son was murdered and left lying in a pool of blood for over four hours—that she would run for Ferguson City Council in 2019.

“Almost four years ago to this day, I ran down this very street and my son was covered in a sheet,” McSpadden said, pausing as she fought back tears. “It broke me, you know. It brought me down to my knees and made me feel crippled as if I could do nothing else anymore from that moment.”

“’My decision to run,” she said, “is to show that I have learned how to walk again… and this is one of my first steps.”

McSpadden said if elected her focus would be on three things: community policing, economic inequality, and access to health care.

And her message to critics: “I know a lot of people may ask what makes me qualified. But I’ll tell you if a mother had to watch her son lay in the street for four and a half hours and watch a community be completely disrespected by elected officials that we elected, what would you do? You would stand up and fight, too.”

Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, the young Black man slain by police in Ferguson, Mo. in August 2014, has announced she will seek a seat on the Ferguson City Council. | Jeff Roberson / AP

Cori Bush, St. Louis Native and activist, stood up and fought hard to unseat nine-term incumbent Lacy Clay from District 1 in Missouri, but fell short of a primary victory by 28,370 votes (56.7 percent). This is hardly the end of Bush, and we will be watching closely as she makes her next political move.

Republican Josh Hawley won his party’s U.S. Senate nomination, setting up a November showdown with Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

Considered one of the most vulnerable senators seeking re-lection in 2018, McCaskill will have a tough fight ahead of her, as Trump won Missouri by 19 points. Recent polling data shows McCaskill and Hawley tied and indicates the Republican challenger is slowly gaining ground.

The fight for November is just getting started, and will likely be a nail-bitter up until votes are in.

Let’s hope Missouri voter turnout is just as high in three months as it was this month, when one-third of the state cast ballots—highest primary turnout since August 2004.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.