St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell enters Missouri’s U.S. Senate race

By: - June 7, 2023 7:20 am

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell (photo submitted).

Wesley Bell, who shocked the Missouri political establishment in 2018 by defeating a seven-term incumbent to become St. Louis County prosecutor, announced Wednesday he was running for U.S. Senate. 

Bell, 48, served as a judge and public defender before being elected to the Ferguson City Council in 2015 — just months after a police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. 

Three years later, he promised big changes after defeating the county prosecutor who had held the office since 1991 and did not indict the police officer who shot Brown.  

Bell was handily re-elected to a second term last year. 

The turmoil following Brown’s death featured prominently in Bell’s campaign announcement.

“Ferguson made me realize there was more I could do,” Bell said.

Bell hopes to unseat U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican elected in 2018 seeking his second term next year. 

Democrats currently hold no statewide elected office in Missouri and have won only once statewide since 2012. 

In his announcement video, Bell contrasted his actions in Ferguson, where he said he worked to mediate between protesters and the police, with Hawley’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021. Hawley faced fierce criticism  for pumping his fist at in support of protesters before a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and contesting President Joe Biden’s victory after the riot was quelled. 

“When I faced chaos in Ferguson, I worked to calm tensions,” Bell said. “But when Josh Hawley was faced with chaos, he chose to inflame it.”

Bell’s election as the first Black prosecutor in St. Louis County’s history was part of a wave of progressive wins in prosecutor races around the country seeking to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Since taking office, he’s halted prosecution of low-level drug crimes and established a unit to review possible wrongful convictions and allegations of police misconduct.

But his tenure in office has not been without controversy.

Some of his proposed reforms have drawn criticism from law enforcement, with staff in the prosecutor’s office voting to join the city police union shortly before he took office. And even the progressive activists who helped get him elected were outraged when, after relaunching the investigation into Michael Brown’s death, Bell decided not to file criminal charges against the officer who killed him.

Bell is the second high-profile Democrat to enter the U.S. Senate race.

Marine veteran Lucas Kunce announced plans to challenge Hawley earlier this year on the second anniversary of the Jan. 6,, insurrection — a decision made, like Bell, to highlight Hawley’s actions on that day. 

Kunce ran for the Democratic nomination last year but fell short, finishing second in the primary behind beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine. She went on to lose to Republican Eric Schmitt by 13 percentage points in November. 

Since announcing his 2024 candidacy, Kunce raised $1.4 million in the first three months of the year, outpacing the $816,000 Hawley raised through both his campaign account and his victory committee. 

Kunce has also racked up a series of high-profile endorsements, including the Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council.

On the same day Bell announced his candidacy, Kunce announced he’d won the endorsement of the Missouri AFL-CIO.

Philip Letsou, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Bell a “soft-on-crime radical who is way too far left to represent Missouri.”

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.