About 50 people came to Christ United Church of Christ on 14th Street in Belleville on Thursday night to hear the three mayoral candidates discuss their visions for the city.
Ward 7 Alderman Phil Elmore, who is running as an independent, Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden, who also is an independent although he is in the United Independent Coalition for All of Belleville, and Mayor Mark Eckert, of the Belleville Good Government party, talked and answered questions.
Two candidates for Ward 2 alderman also participated in the forum sponsored by the Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Watch Association.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Dorothy Meyer, of the Belleville Good Government party, and Janet Kay Schmidt, an independent also with the coalition, spoke for three minutes each and then answered questions.
The mayoral candidates each spoke for five minutes and then answered questions with each answer limited to three minutes.
Then each mayoral candidate added closing thoughts.
Elmore said he would come to the mayor's job with an open mind, knowing that sometimes mayors have to make decisions that people don't like.
"I have no preconceived notions of a party slate or agenda set for me ahead of time," he said. "I would look at each issue on its merits."
Hayden said he would be focused on improving police protection in the city.
"The number one issue in the city of Belleville in my opinion is crime," he said. "If we do not change what we're doing in the city of Belleville, my opinion, and my opinion only, is that people will continue to move out."
Eckert talked about the many improvements during his eight years as mayor and promised to continue to try to improve the city.
He said as a family man and small business owner he understands fears people might have.
"I agree crime is always an issue but I'm proud of the job Chief Bill Clay and his assistant, Jim Sparger, are doing."
Eckert and Hayden disagreed on the issue of the West End Police Station, which is closed. Hayden said opening it again would provide more protection.
Eckert said both former police chiefs and Chief Clay agree that the substation is best closed because it put six more officers back on the street
The candidates sparred over Tax Increment Financing districts and the way the dollars are spent.
Both Elmore and Hayden chided Eckert for buying the closed furniture store on the west end and giving TIF money to Ruler Food to build at the site of the old Bel-Air Bowl.
But Eckert said the people surrounding both businesses are glad to see some progress. He said the sales taxes and property taxes from the new grocery store will be welcome.
All the candidates pledged to push for street and sidewalk repairs, to make sure hiring practices are not discriminatory and called for more transparency in city government.
In closing, Elmore again stressed preventing crime.
"We have not had enough police officers hired in the last 10 years to feel safe," he said. "Do you feel safer than you did 10 years ago?"
In his closing, Hayden said the election was about a tale of two cities.
"One is where everything is rosy and we stick to the plan," he said. "The second is that everything is not rosy. The election comes down to a simple proposition. If you're happy with the status quo, by all means I suggest you vote for Mayor Eckert. If you're not happy with the status quo, look at me and change the status quo."
Eckert said that the administration has to work together to make the city better and that hasn't happened in the last year with the declared candidates.
"We have serious problems, but I hope when you go to the polls you look at the job my administration has done. We've survived the worst recession since the Depression. I believe we've made progress. We've done a lot and there's a lot more to do."
In the aldermanic statements, Meyer cited some of the accomplishments in her ward in her past four years and asked voters to return her for four more years.
Schmidt said she wants to help cure what she said is an atmosphere of noncooperation in city government. She promised to serve only two four-year terms or even to get out after one if someone else wanted to run.