Bell Begins Prosecutorial Tenur Amid Uncertainty About St. Louis County’s Future

By on January 3, 2019

From St. Louis Public Radio:  Nearly five years ago, Wesley Bell had a murky political future.

He fell short of winning a seat on the St. Louis County Council after losing decisively to incumbent Hazel Erby.

Flash forward to the first day of 2019 and Bell’s political fortunes have dramatically shifted. After winning election to a Ferguson City Council seat after the shooting death of Michael Brown, Bell shocked St. Louis County by easily upending Prosecutor Bob McCulloch. As he looked upon hundreds of people gathered for his Tuesday afternoon inauguration, Bell acknowledged the opportunity, and challenge, ahead.

“We can’t do it alone,” Bell said. “You want to go fast? Go alone. You want to go far? We have to go together.”

Bell and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger were sworn in on Tuesday, along with four members of the St. Louis County Council. The 44-year-old took his official oath of office at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, making him the first African-American prosecutor in St. Louis County’s history.

Before he ever ran for office, Bell served as a municipal prosecutor and judge for a number of cities throughout St. Louis County. He also taught at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley. While some have described his political ascension as an out-of-nowhere phenomenon, Bell spent the run up to his prosecutorial bid meticulously building his name recognition as Ferguson dealt with the aftermath of Brown’s death.

His campaign had support from local and national groups that want to overhaul the criminal justice system.

Among other things, Bell has promised to eliminate cash bail and never seek the death penalty. He also wants assistant prosecutors to be assigned to specific parts of St. Louis County and expand diversionary programs like drug courts.

“It’s time that we get ahead of the curve and start expanding those programs for non-violent, low-level offenders so that they don’t progress to the violent crimes,” Bell said. “We’re going to seriously address the cash bail system. Currently, the murderer with means is able to get out while the low level offender who is not a threat to anyone languishes in jail. And that’s not right.”

Bell’s victory showcased the emergence of a multi-racial political coalition banding together African-Americans in north St. Louis County and the more integrated cities in the county’s central corridor. But the run-up to his inauguration has also brought heightened scrutiny.

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