BELLEVILLE — Mayor Mark Eckert won re-election early Wednesday over two challengers in the city's first three-way mayoral race in 16 years.
The unofficial results as of midnight, with all absentee ballots in, are: Mark Eckert, 2,727 votes; Phil Elmore, 1,513 votes; and Joe Hayden, 2,257 votes.
Eckert said before unofficial but final results were released, that he believed there were about 700 absentee ballots -- enough to make a difference in the mayor's race and some close city alderman races.
"We may still have a majority; we may not," Eckert said of his Belleville Good Government Party.
But when all of the votes were counted, only three of the Good Government incumbents were retained.
Eckert said he was disappointed and concerned for the city to lose such experienced, long-serving public servants.
"It was a night that I think shocked a lot of us because when you have a low voter turnout, when you only have 6,000 some people to come out ... that's gonna be a situation where you get some surprises," Eckert said.
Hayden said earlier in the evening it would be premature to comment until all of the votes were in. Later, he could not be reached for comment.
Eckert said he will work hard to educate all the new elected officials.
"I hope we all do what is best for Belleville," he said. "We might find some common ground. They might find out we're not wrong. Everything's not broken here in the city. ... Things they want to change might not be as easy as they think. I hope they come with an open mind."
Elmore conceded about 9 p.m. Tuesday and notified his opponents. He attributed his loss to it being a three-way race, with he and Hayden splitting the independent vote.
"If either Joe or I were not in the race, it probably would have resulted in Mayor Eckert not winning," Elmore said.
Elmore said one thing is clear: There is a definite change in the landscape of Belleville politics.
"The Good Government Party almost got swept," Elmore continued. "Residents sent a clear message to city government that they want change and ... they got big change tonight."
Elmore said he hopes everybody can "turn the page and work together" now that there are even more independent candidates on the City Council than ever before.
Elmore said he was upset with the voter turnout. There were 6,539 ballots cast in the city, with some absentees, out of about 27,278 registered voters.
Eckert agrees the biggest disappointment Tuesday evening was the voter turnout.
"That's the message that resonates: the apathy," Eckert said. "To me, that's the saddest part of the story."
With this many contested races, Eckert said he expected a voter turnout of at least 50 percent.
Elmore also said he would not have changed a thing about his decision to run for mayor and the way he ran his campaign.
"It was a hard fought race and I wish them both all my best," Elmore said. "I had some great volunteers. I wish everyone on the City Council only the best."
Elmore, an insurance agent elected as alderman in 2009, said he will be out of city politics for at least two years before deciding whether to run again for alderman.
"Tonight's probably not the night to decide that but in two years that will be a decision I have to make," Elmore said. "We gave it a great fight."
Eckert, the incumbent, was running for re-election with a full slate of candidates as part of the Belleville Good Government Party.
Eckert was appointed mayor in 2004 and was elected in 2005. He won re-election in 2009, with 2,699 votes, in an uncontested race.
Elmore, now an independent, ran for Ward 7 alderman in 1995 with the Good Government Party and lost by 22 votes.
Hayden was elected in 2011. He was running for mayor in the middle of his alderman term; he still has another two years as alderman.
Hayden, an insurance agent, previously served as Belleville alderman from 1993-97. Eckert beat Hayden in 1997 for Ward 5 alderman.
The three candidates are running in the city's first three-way race for mayor since 1997. In that election, two former Belleville aldermen, Mark Kern and Tom Mabry, ran against incumbent Rodger Cook.
Kern won and served until 2004, when he was elected chairman of the St. Clair County Board. He appointed Eckert, who was an alderman at the time.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at email@example.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.