Ferguson protest leader Cori Bush overthrows Missouri political dynasty

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(AP) – Cori Bush, a former homeless woman who led protests over the shooting death of a white policeman on an 18-year-old black man in Ferguson, ousted longtime representative William Lacy Clay Tuesday in the Democratic primary in Missouri, ending a political dynasty that has lasted for more than half a century.

Bush’s victory came in a 2018 rematch, when she failed to capitalize on a nationwide Democratic wave that favored political newcomers such as Bush’s friend, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez.

But this time around, Bush supporters said protests over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis custody and outrage at racial injustice had finally pushed her to the limit.

An emotional Bush, addressing her supporters while wearing a mask, said few expected her to win.

“They counted us,” she said. “They called me – I’m just the protester, I’m just the activist with no name, no title and no real money. That’s all they said I was. But St. Louis arrived today.

Bush’s campaign spokeswoman Keenan Korth said voters in the district were “galvanized.”

“They are ready to turn the page on decades of failed leadership,” Korth said.

Bush, 44, also enjoyed the support of the Justice Democrats and Fight Corporate Monopolies political action committee this election. She campaigned for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during her run for president.

Bush’s main victory essentially guarantees him a seat in Congress representing the strongly Democratic region of St. Louis. The 1st Congressional District of Missouri has been represented by Clay or his father for half a century. Bill Clay served 32 years before retiring in 2000. William Lacy Clay, 64, was elected that year.

Clay didn’t face a serious challenger until Bush. This year he ran on his decades-long record in Congress.

“This election is a simple choice,” Clay said in a statement on Monday. “Cori Bush’s empty rhetoric, or my record of real results and real reform for the people.”

Clay and Bush are both black, and black residents outnumber whites in the district which includes St. Louis and northern St. Louis County.

Bush fell ill while pregnant with her second child in 2001 and had to quit her preschool job. When she and her then-husband were evicted from a rental home, the couple, their newborn baby and 14-month-old son lived in a Ford Explorer for several months.

Eventually, the couple divorced. Bush graduated as a nurse. She also became a pastor.

Michael Brown’s 2014 death in Ferguson put her in another role: activist. She has become one of the leaders of some of the many protests that followed the fatal police shooting against the unarmed 18-year-old black man. She was back on the streets in 2017 after a white officer in Saint-Louis was acquitted of the shooting murder of a black suspect.

She continues to lead demonstrations.

“She is supported by this movement, and the origin of the movement is in Ferguson,” Justice Democrats spokesman Waleed Shahid said.