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Politically Speaking: Wesley Bell on his high-profile campaign and Ferguson's challenges

Wesley Bell
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

On this special edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies break down the results of a municipal election cycle that received national attention.

Three city council races in Ferguson captured the focus of the national and international media, especially after Michael Brown’s shooting death when the town was put in an international spotlight. All eight candidates who ran for three open seats were interviewed by dozens of news outlets – including St. Louis Public Radio.

This year’s April elections also featured a special election for the 6th District seat on the St. Louis County Council. What could have a pickup opportunity for Republicans turned into a clear win for Democrat Kevin O’Leary. The race showcased the political muscle of St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, whose political organization played a key role in O’Leary’s blowout over Republican Tony Pousosa.

Wesley Bell stands near the burned down QuikTrip last year.
Credit File photo by Mary Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio
Wesley Bell stands near the burned down QuikTrip last year.

For the rest of the show, Mannies and Rosenbaum spoke in-depth with Ferguson Councilman-elect Wesley Bell. Bell is an attorney and college professor who ran unsuccessfully for the St. Louis County Council last year. He also serves a municipal court judge in Velda City and prosecutor in Riverview, jobs that attracted criticism during the campaign cycle.

Bell trounced Lee Smith in a contest for Ferguson’s Ward 3 seat, which is where Brown was shot and killed by former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. He’ll join a council that’ll have to face major decisions, including hiring a new city manager and responding to a damning Department of Justice report of Ferguson’s police department.

On the show, Bell said:

  • His challenge of Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, was beneficial to his city council bid. “We didn’t want to change our message,” he said. “Our message was about bringing people together.”
  • While his county council bid received scant local media attention, he was flooded with calls from news outlets about his city council bid. He’s even talked with Swedish and Russian radio stations about his campaign.
  • Criticism of his municipal court positions gave him a chance to talk about how to change a system that’s been under scrutiny. When asked if he would give up those jobs when he becomes a councilman, he said “that’s something I’m going to take into consideration. ... If it’s going to be something that’s going to affect in an adverse way me being the best councilman I can be, then that’s something I’m going to take into consideration.”
  • He wasn’t fazed by how outside groups supported his opponent in the election. “There were outside groups affecting outside groups,” he said. “And some of the groups have more money. And so, it looked better to them to say ‘we’re against a municipal court judge.’ Now my opinion is it’s kind of a lazy argument."
  • He wants to be a “consensus builder” on the council. “We ran on that, but it’s not just a slogan,” he said. “They know that I’ve been in the community. They know that I’m going to be even-tempered. We’re think things through. We’re not going to do things by knee-jerk reaction."

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter:@jmannies

Follow Wesley Bell on Twitter: @Bell4STL

Music: "Never Let Me Down Again" by Depeche Mode

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
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