BELLEVILLE — After an election Wednesday that called for voters to stand on one side of a gym or another in support of their candidate, Belleville Township has a new trustee.
Joe Hubbard had more supporters on his side of the gym at Belleville West High School than did candidate Ralph Hult.
Hubbard was sworn in Wednesday night after the voice vote election. He will fill the seat of former Trustee Paul Klingler, who died in May.
"I was overwhelmed by the people who came to show their support and trust in me," Hubbard said after the election.
Hubbard, 70, has long been known for his service with the nonprofit Catholic Urban Programs. Hubbard is retired but he continues to volunteer to help needy people. He also is secretary of the Belleville Good Government Party.
Doors opened for voters at 6 p.m. for the special meeting. About a dozen employees from the St. Clair County Clerk's Office was at the school to verify about 300 voters before the meeting started at 7 p.m.
Before the meeting, St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook commented that he has been in politics for 40 years and has never seen anything like the Belleville Township election.
"This is probably the only time you'll ever see this in your lifetime," Holbrook said. "There's nothing more democratic than going into a room and raising your hand."
Holbrook said voter verification went smoothly, but there were about three residents who could not vote because they were not registered within 28 days of the election.
As voters filed into the gym, they were in good spirits. Some chatted about the election being a novelty and historic moment as they waited for the meeting to start.
Some voters carried signs that read "Joe's the man" and "We're for Joe Hubbard."
About 20 others came to watch, though they were ineligible to vote.
Killian Weir, 46, of Fairmont City, said he thought the township's election process is fascinating and he wanted to see politics on a grassroots level.
"It's better than reality TV, better than Dancing with the Stars," Weir said.
Township officials first asked for nominations for a moderator to run the meeting. Voters selected Holbrook, whose name was suggested by officials in recent weeks.
Some residents tossed out Township Clerk Dallas Cook's name, but Cook declined the moderator role.
Holbrook then asked for voters to nominate candidates for the four-year term and residents named Hult and Hubbard. Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert nominated Hubbard.
Holbrook closed the nomination process after asking three times if voters would like to nominate anyone else. Then Holbrook gave each candidate five minutes to speak.
Hult told voters gathered in the gym that he was running for the position because he wants to increase transparency in the township so residents know what it does, and why.
Hult, 66, said he has lived in Belleville since 1989, is a retired officer of 23 years with the Air Force and contractor at Scott Air Force Base. He also serves the Hexenbukel Neighborhood Association in Belleville.
Hubbard got a standing ovation after he told voters about his history serving the poor, helping a homeless person find lodging or assisting families unable to pay for a loved one's burial.
Hubbard said he wants to continue helping the needy through Belleville Township: "If there's any good I can do, let me do it now," he said.
After the speeches, officials told supporters to move to different sides of the gym to be seated in front of their candidate.
Most of the voters already were seated on bleachers on the side of their candidate, but some voters literally picked up their chairs and moved sides.
Exact numbers will not be available, but an estimated 260 voters were for Hubbard and about 40 were for Hult.
When Hult saw the numbers of supporters on Hubbard's side of the gym, he said "It's obvious Joe's going to win." Hult then walked across the gym floor to shake Hubbard's hand, concluding the election shortly before 7:30 p.m.
"I was disappointed in my turnout because I talked to lots of people who said they'd be here," Hult said, "but I think it was done fairly and there was no reason to prolong the agony."
Resident Paul Brigman, 50, who voted for Hult, said after the election that he would have liked to seen the candidates debate so he could learn more about them.
Still, resident Kevin Oelrich, 53, said the night was a "once in a lifetime experience."
Oelrich was at the meeting with his wife, daughter, toddler granddaughter and a family friend.
"I've known Joe all my life," Oelrich said. "He's a tireless worker and there isn't a better man for this position."
In June, the Township Board appointed Hult with a 3-2 vote. Later, Township Attorney Brian Flynn said Hult was ineligible because, per township code, the seat had to filled by someone of Klingler's political party.
Hult eventually agreed with Flynn's opinion and resigned in July.
Because Hult's resignation was 60 days after Klingler's death, township code called for the new trustee to be elected by residents instead of appointment by trustees. And, residents can elect someone who is not of Klingler's political party.
Hubbard's victory Wednesday means the Belleville Good Government Party now has a majority on the Belleville Township board -- Hubbard, Supervisor Dennis Korte and Trustee Joyce Laux.
Trustees Joy Schrieber and Joe Swierczek are independents.