'We shocked the world;' Wesley Bell upsets 27-year incumbent McC - KMOV.com

'We shocked the world;' Wesley Bell upsets 27-year incumbent McCulloch

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(Credit: KMOV) (Credit: KMOV)

ST. LOUIS (KMOV/AP) -- In a monumental upset, Wesley Bell unseated longtime St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. 

Bell, a Ferguson City Councilman, ran on a criminal-justice reform platform, which includes devoting resources for treating addiction and mental health, ending mass incarceration and focusing on serious crimes.

Wesley Bell's stunning defeat of seven-term St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch in Tuesday's Democratic contest all but assures Bell of victory in November. The Republicans have not put up a candidate.

"People did not think it could be done," the 43-year-old Bell said in an interview Wednesday. "The message we would tell people is, 'You don't have to believe it, yet, just support it.'"

Bell said what resonated with voters was his platform of reforms such as holding police more accountable, revising the cash bail system and ending prosecution of low-level drug crimes.

Bell got 57 percent to McCulloch's 43 percent in St. Louis County, which borders the city of St. Louis and is the biggest county in Missouri, with a population of about 1 million.

“People keep saying ‘you shocked the world,’" Bell said to the joyous crowd at his watch party. "No, we shocked the world. People showed up and showed out.”

McCulloch has been St. Louis County’s top prosecutor since 1991 and has rarely been challenged at the ballot box. In 2014, he ran unopposed.

He was criticized by Bell and others for how he handled the grand jury investigation into former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Michael Brown in August 2014. Protests and unrest occurred right after the shooting and the decision to not indict Wilson.

During his campaign for prosecutor, Bell said, he went out of his way to make it about larger criminal justice issues, not about McCulloch's handling of the Brown case. When a campaign worker posted "bye bye Bob" on the Facebook page leading up to the election, Bell made him take it down.

Bell, who, like McCulloch, is the son of a police officer, outlined a far different approach for the prosecutor's office under his leadership. He said he will appoint independent special prosecutors for allegations of wrongdoing by officers. He said he will support police "200 percent" as long as they act appropriately.

"But if we find an officer has violated the law, he should be held accountable," Bell said.

He wants to reform the cash bail system that keeps impoverished defendants behind bars, often for months, while they await trial, and plans instead to free more of them with monitoring devices.

He said he will not file charges in low-level, nonviolent marijuana cases and will dismiss pending charges. And he said he will never seek the death penalty.

The ACLU of Eastern Missouri released the following statement after Bell's victory:

These results demonstrate that voters care passionately about crucial civil rights issues from the unjust use of cash bail to how long people are sitting in our jails because they can’t afford to pay, to demanding their prosecuting attorney be transparent on his office’s work,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, Executive Director of ACLU of Missouri. “We provided voters with essential information on civil liberties issues and they demanded transparency and fairness from their prosecuting attorney. We look forward to working with our members and community partners to hold St. Louis County’s next prosecuting attorney accountable for protecting the rights of the people.

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