LEBANON — Although there are six people running for mayor in Lebanon, it has been a quiet, amicable race.
They even seem to agree on most of the biggest issues facing the village.
"The thing that is really great about this community is really reflected in the mayor's race," said candidate Conrad Steinhoff. "There is no negative campaigning going on at all. We all know each other, most of these guys are personal friends. You don't want to dis your friends, we want to be friends after the election as well as before and we are treating each other with respect."
Current Lebanon Mayor Scott Abner decided not to run for re-election and with that decision, six others have stepped up to try to fill the seat.
When Steinhoff, 80, heard Abner would not be running for a third term, he decided to run.
"I have a passion for the future of this community and want to serve the community, so I decided to run," he said. "Little did I know I would have this much competition."
Candidate Anthony Buhl, 55, ran for mayor four years ago and garnered 41 percent of the vote. He was a little surprised by the number of people vying for the position.
"Isn't it incredible?" he said. "I think it's a record."
The pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Lebanon said he thinks it's a good indication that people care about Lebanon with so many people are running for the seat.
"I think it's really fantastic that many people are that interested in the welfare of the city and willing to make such a commitment to the community that they are willing to take the crap a mayor has to take in that position," said Rev. Peter J. Wehrly. "I'm glad to see so many people running. I wish a woman was running, too."
But, not everyone believes having six people running for the same seat is the best thing for Lebanon.
"I think it's ridiculous -- there are too many choices," said Ellen Leaf-Moore, owner of Fezziwig's Marketplace in Lebanon. "What happens is someone gets 25 percent of the vote and they win and that's not necessarily what's best for the entire city. This is a great town and the right mayor will make a big difference."
Leaf-Moore said she and her husband, Tim Moore, have talked about the number of candidates running and believe there should be some kind of limit, some kind of pre-election before the election to narrow the number of candidates down to a more reasonable amount.
"It's pretty bizarre," Moore said. "If one of them gets 18 percent of the vote, they get elected and that's scary. I hope someone wins big because it will be disappointing if someone wins with just 25 percent of the vote."
Buhl said he has attended nearly every City Council meeting and believes he would do a good job leading the council.
"They don't work together very well," he said. "I thought I could do a little better job to lead them and work with them and get things done because right now, nothing is getting done. I care about the town and want to see something improved."
Rich Wilken, 68, decided to run for mayor on a lark. When he asked his daughter, who is the office manager for his insurance business in Lebanon, what he could do to help her out in the office, she told him to run on down to city hall and pick up a petition and run for mayor.
"It was met by enthusiasm by some people who know me, they grabbed the petitions and had them signed within hours," he explained. "There are some issues in the city that I'm concerned about and I believe all things happen for a reason. If I do get elected, I am committed to do the best job I can do. If I don't, my life won't change, it will still be the same."
Candidate Francis J. Almeter has already dipped his toe into the water as mayor of Lebanon. He served in the position from 1989 to 1997 then served on the City Council as an alderman. While he would like to serve as mayor again, he said he would support and help any of the candidates selected by the voters if the new mayor wanted it.
"I have the experience to do it, I know what needs to be done," he said. "If any of the other guys get in there, it will take them a couple of years to get up to speed."
Over the years the City Council has fallen apart, he said.
"It's divided, it's divisive, and I'm not sure what happened there," he said. "Aldermen stand up in the city council meeting, yelling at each other, shouting. That's unheard of and it has to stop. That's not a way to run a meeting."
He added that with six candidates running for the spot, it might be difficult to win. He decided to run for the position after members of the Economic Development Committee encouraged him to throw his hat into the race, he said.
"They kept asking me and urging me to do it, telling me that I needed to run," he explained. "I told them that even if I don't get elected, I will work with whoever is in office, if they want me to. It's not going to be an easy job for the next four years."
The position pays $5,760 annually.
Longtime resident and former business owner Michele Rowe said that she hopes whoever wins the election will be able to lead Lebanon into the future.
"I think a lot of people want to see some growth and positive changes in this town and perhaps these gentlemen want to take this town in that direction," Rowe said. "It's frustrating not to see this town grow to its full potential. We need someone with a vision."
So, what are the biggest issues, according to the candidates?
Buhl said the village's aging infrastructure, tax base and need for new businesses and homes are the biggest issues, as well as addressing the encroachment of O'Fallon and Mascoutah.
"We can stop the encroachment now, if we can get the City Council to work together. We need to get land annexed," he said. "We are getting swallowed up by O'Fallon and Mascoutah and if we don't stop that and get something done, we are going to fade away."
Steinhoff said the village's lagging economic development and need for more single-family homes were the issues. He is also a strong advocate for a new elementary school.
"We've been kind of stuck in the past," he said. "This community has a rich heritage and we sort of bask in that, but you cannot not change and survive. We need new businesses and we need a stronger tax base. ... In this town we have never had a TIF district and we are going to need to do that to help some of our existing businesses and some of the new ones we want to attract."
Wilken sees finances as the biggest issue facing Lebanon, as in, the village needs a stronger tax base and more residential and commercial growth. He is also a strong supporter of a new elementary school.
"I think we all feel the school is the heart of the community and we all see that residential growth bring kids into that school," he said. "When you bring more families into the city, you bring in more business."
Wilken added, that, if elected, he would let the city administrator go when his contract expires.
"I'm pretty fiscally conservative," he added. "We've had a city administrator here for eight years that I think needs to go. I've talked to people and asked people if there is any reason why I couldn't do what he has been doing for no additional pay and that would put $67,000 back into the city's budget."
The biggest project Almeter said the city needs to concentrate on for the next few years is getting land annexed into the city along Illinois 4 to Interstate 64, a plan that was started when he was in office in the 90s and later dropped.
"We've already put $300,000 into that sewer line," he said of the project. "All we have to do now is run that water line to get the annexation done as part of the agreement. The money is there, all we have to do is get it done. I'm afraid if I don't get in, everything is going to fall into a heap again."
He added that a TIF district is necessary for the whole southside of Lebanon to repair aged infrastructure and help fund a new elementary school.
Candidates Jim Horneman and Lloyd Wilson Adams Jr. could not be reached for comment.
Contact reporter Jennifer A. Schaaf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2667.