In a remarkable upset victory that could have a “transformative” effect on St. Louis’s deeply racist criminal justice system, progressive reformer and Ferguson city council member Wesley Bell on Tuesday handily defeated 27-year Democratic incumbent Bob McCulloch in the race to become St. Louis County’s top prosecutor.
McCulloch became “notorious” nationwide after his refusal to prosecute police officer Darren Wilson for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014—an event that sparked weeks of protests and galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement.
As Huffington Post senior reporter Matt Ferner noted on Twitter, Tuesday’s race was widely viewed as a “referendum on McCulloch’s handling” of the Michael Brown case, and voters decided that it is time for a radical change.
Bell—who is expected to coast in November’s general election, as there are no Republicans on the ballot—ran on an ambitious and straightforward agenda centered around ending mass incarceration, eliminating cash bail, expanding treatment for drug abuse and mental illness, and ending the deeply harmful practice of harshly punishing non-violent drug and property offenders.
“If we’re going to push these changes, I need you to be a part of that too,” Bell told supporters during his victory speech late Tuesday. “Lets keep this momentum going. So we can bring change to this county; so that we can be change that’s not only going to make people safer, but help people, help families. This is too important, this matters too much, so let’s keep moving and pushing St. Louis County, the region, the country, forward. Thank you so much.”
In a statement applauding Bell’s upset win, Democracy for America chair Jim Dean said his success “shows us that voters are hungry for prosecutors who understand the structural racism that undergirds our criminal justice system and are committed to delivering on reforms that can fundamentally alter it.”
“We can’t fundamentally reform our criminal justice system if we don’t change our criminal prosecutors, and that’s exactly what St. Louis County is poised to do,” Dean concluded.