FLORISSANT, Mo. (KMOX) – With his wife, children, and parents in the audience along with dozens of consituents, Robert Parson Jr. made history Monday night by raising his right hand and taking the oath of office.
The 46-year-old attorney became the first ever African-American member of the Florissant City Council.
He decided to run after previous 8th Ward Councilman Mark Schmidt ran unopposed in 2013 and won with fewer than 500 votes.
It was around that time that the city redrew its Ward boundary lines, because the NAACP pointed out, the electoral plan in place at that time undermined the opportunity of black voters in Florissant to participate equally in city government.
“I believe whether there was redistricting or not, I was probably going to win the election,” Parson explained. “There was a lot of people of all races who really wanted to make a change in Ward No. 8. I got a lot of encouragement from people – people helping me at the polls of all different races, not just black people.”
According to data from the 2010 census, nearly 20 percent of Florissant’s population is African-American.
“I mean, it was going to be inevitable,” said Florissant Mayor Thomas Schneider. “I think we really certainly got a very qualified individual to be the first one.”
For his part, Parson understands why this is a momentous occasion in his city’s history, but he hopes that all the hype fades fairly quickly.
“Really I just want people to consider me to be a city councilman,” Parson said. “After today, I’ll like the historic part of it, but I just want to be considered a councilman from here on out.”
He said his priorities will be making sure Florissant is using its money wisely, and he especially wants to encourage children to pursue their education and help single parents.
Before Parson and three other returning members were sworn in, a lengthy ceremony was held to commemorate Mark Schmidt’s 21 years of service as 8th Ward Councilman.
Schmidt became emotional at times while thanking his family and constituents for their support over the years as he worked projects like the Cross Keys Apartment Project and the Florissant Golf Course to become reality.