For the first time since incorporating as a city more than a century ago, Ferguson, Missouri — site of the Black Lives Matter protests that catalyzed a summer of anger and action in 2014 after the shooting death of Michael Brown — has elected a Black woman to lead a community best known nationally as one of the flashpoints in the fight for racial and criminal justice in America. City council member Ella Jones earned 54% of the vote to replace current Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III (R), whom she lost to three years ago.
Jones defeated fellow city council member Heather Robinett, whom The New York Times reports also ran on a platform of continuing the existing criminal justice reforms put in place after Brown was killed by white police officer Darren Wilson.
"It’s just our time," Jones told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Tuesday evening. "It’s just my time to do right by the people."
Jones also acknowledged the significance of her victory as both Ferguson's first Black, and female, mayor. "I’ve got work to do," she said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio reporter Jason Rosenbaum, shortly after her win. "Because when you’re an African American woman, they require more of you than they require of my counterpart."
Asked in an interview with the Ferguson Times about the city's history of racial disparity when it comes to local elections, Jones stressed that she saw herself as an individual first, and a candidate second:
"Our region has a history of racial problems," Jones acknowledged. "Unfortunately, it touches every aspect of our society: economics, housing, education, crime, health care, and politics. As a pre-coronavirus candidate, I made every effort to meet voters to introduce myself as an individual and then as a candidate. I wanted them to know me and I would get a chance to know them. They will find out that we share a similar vision and will vote for me not because of our differences but because of what we have in common and our shared vision for Ferguson."
On her campaign website, Jones — who has lived in Ferguson for the past four decades — offers a list of administrative objectives, including public safety, neighborhood stabilization, and notably, continuing the efforts of the existing consent decree between the city and the Department of Justice, designed to reform local law enforcement.
"I know the people in Ferguson are ready to stabilize their community, and we’re going to work together to get it done," Jones told Rosenbaum.
Tuesday's other major electoral result was also somewhat of a referendum on race: Longtime Iowa Rep. Steve King lost his bid for re-election, falling in the Republican primary to candidate Randy Feenstra. King had a long history of making racist and white supremacist statements, including notably in 2017 when he said, "Diversity is not our strength."
Jones's election meanwhile comes as the country is once again rocked by protests over the police killing of an unarmed Black man — this time George Floyd, in Minneapolis. Both Jones and her opponent Robinett expressed support for the ongoing peaceful protests that have sprung up in cities across the country.