BELLEVILLE — All three mayoral candidates in the April 9 election plan to use social media to engage supporters and rally new voters -- just don't expect to see any of them tweeting just yet.
Ward 7 Alderman Phil Elmore has been using Facebook since April, when he announced his candidacy, to share his stance on city issues and promote campaign fundraisers.
His running mate and candidate for treasurer, Ward 4 Alderman Dean Hardt, does the same. In recent weeks, Elmore and Hardt have recorded a video synopsis after each City Council meeting.
"It's very important to be as accessible to the public as possible," Elmore said. "When people continually complain (Mayor Mark Eckert) isn't accessible to them, I see it as a real issue."
Eckert, who's running again, said he is accessible: He's attends city functions, people stop him on the street, his office is open and residents are free to call his cellphone.
Eckert does acknowledge that this election will be the first in which he and Belleville Good Government Party candidates use a website and Facebook to campaign, though Twitter likely won't be used.
Eckert said the sites will launch after the New Year.
"I've got a few young people who are helping our campaign to manage all this," Eckert said. "Certainly, President Obama's campaign was extremely successful doing so and we do recognize it's part of today's world -- and it's time."
Obama's election campaign used social media to organize supporters and solicit campaign funds. The president also has given a live interview on YouTube and answered questions from Reddit users.
Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden, the other candidate in the race for mayor, has created the web address www.votejoehayden.com that sends you to his Facebook page.
Hayden said he was told Facebook does everything a webpage can and allows more interaction with followers, especially younger supporters.
"Our goal for this campaign is get young people as energized as possible," Hayden said. "They're the future leadership of this city so it's important to get them as involved as possible."
Hayden said his Facebook page would most likely be managed by Dallas Cook, who's running for city treasurer on Hayden's ticket.
"I provide information that I feel needs to go on there, and he proofs it and posts it," Hayden said. "He's 20-something and that's how they were brought up. That's their form of communicating."
Eckert said he knows younger voters use the web and social media to get their facts and get civically engaged.
Still, Eckert cautions elected officials to understand that what they say through social media is part of the public record. Too often, users are quick to fire things off before processing their emotions and without being able to read the other party's body language.
"Social media has proven itself to be wonderful, but elected officials have to be very careful," Eckert said. "Eye to eye is still best."
Elmore said he still meets with voters face to face, over coffee and going door to door, but he has also heard from them via email, LinkedIn and other messaging tools.
Elmore said he's had the most success communicating with voters on Facebook, www.facebook.com/ForABetterBelleville, and his website, www.forabetterbelleville.com.
Elmore said he has about 400 subscribers who are immediately notified whenever he posts something new.
Elmore uses his Twitter account, @4abetterbville, sparingly. Neither Eckert nor Hayden are on Twitter.
"I am functional with the Facebook, but the Twitter, no. I'm sure that will eventually come into the campaign," Hayden said. "From what I understand, this puts me one step above (Eckert)."
Critics have pointed out that Eckert does not have a computer in his office and said he lacks the technological savvy to lead the city.
Eckert, however, said his secretaries have computers. On any given day, Eckert has anywhere from seven to 15 meetings that take him out of his office.
"I'm not going to sit in front of a computer all day," Eckert said. "I don't want to see the mayor of the city become impersonal."
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.