Ten years ago, six Belleville aldermen who were incumbents ran unopposed in the eight ward races. In the other two races, the incumbents defeated the challengers. All of these incumbents were members of the Good Government Party.
Flash-forward to 2015, and Belleville voters have choices to make in all eight ward races, as 18 people filed to run for City Council. And the Good Government Party no longer exists.
It’s possible for eight new aldermen to take seats on the 16-member City Council, and there will be at least four new faces after Tuesday’s election. Four incumbents are running for re-election. So what kind of politics will be in store for the newcomers?
City Clerk Dallas Cook, who two years ago ran as an independent and defeated Linda Fields, a longtime member of the Good Government Party, and Mayor Mark Eckert, who has been mayor since December 2004 and was leader of the Good Government Party, both took questions about the future of Belleville politics.
For starters, Cook believes Eckert needs to be replaced.
“I think it’s time for a new mayor,” Cook said. “I think he’s served the city for 10 years now as mayor and it’s something I can appreciate, and I know that he has worked diligently on the city’s behalf. However, he’s gotten to a place where he’s not OK with people disagreeing with him. You have to understand, you’re not the king, you’re the mayor.”
“I think that’s something he is going to learn the hard way through an election.”
In response, Eckert said, “It doesn’t surprise me. They always want to throw out the person who’s in.”
Eckert described himself as someone who has “been committed to spend the time and the energy and every waking moment of the day basically dedicated to the city. I think they know that I’ve done that.”
Eckert said he’s proud of his record and that of the Good Government Party, which was dissolved last year.
The revamping of downtown Belleville, two new large shopping centers, the rise of Lindenwood University-Belleville, a new fire station on Illinois 15, a crime-free ordinance and waste-water treatment plants improvements are some of the highlights Eckert noted about his record.
Cook said he does not have plans to run for mayor in 2017, when Eckert’s term expires. Eckert said he’s not yet saying whether he will run again.
Cohesion or chaos?
City Council meetings can often get contentious between independents who have been elected in recent years and the mayor. So what will the new aldermen encounter?
Eckert said, “I hope to see some very enthusiastic, caring people get involved that can really work together and really care about having some vision.”
Cook said he expects “less chaos.”
“I look forward to the different opinions and perspectives they’re going to bring because it’s going to be exciting to see that,” Cook said. He looks forward to watching “them when they’re asked to vote on something and see the light bulb go off.”
City leaders call for ‘respect’
Eckert and Cook both cited a lack of respect from the opposing sides.
“They have to quit voting against the mayor and vote for what’s right for Belleville,” Eckert said. “It’s obvious they don’t have any respect for my position whatsoever and what I’ve done since I’ve been here.”
“But I’m sorry we have beaten up our own city trying to prove a point to be against Mark Eckert, and I think that’s a shame.”
The mayor added, “I’m almost afraid that all this negativism is going to keep the future good people from running for office in the city of Belleville because they have to ask themselves, ‘Why would I want to put myself and my family through this scrutiny and why would I want go and sit there for three hours and have people stand up and name-call and run people down and be a part of that negative energy?’”
Cook said, “The worst thing that I’ve seen since I’ve been here is the lack of respect for people who have been elected to an office by the people of this city.”
“We have to respect the offices which we hold and which exist here in the city. We have to respect the people in those offices and understand they have a job to do to.”
The new City Council members are expected face two significant financial issues.
First, they will decide whether to give final approval for tax incentives for a proposed $50 million project that would include an upscale hotel and Hofbrauhaus restaurant next to the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows.
Supporters of the project say it will create jobs and boost the economic outlook for the city and the Shrine. Opponents have raised questions about the city’s vetting of the developers and the use of tax incentives.
Second, aldermen may have to deal with a possible $2.2 million cut in state funding.
All of the Belleville City Council candidates filed as independents this year, including the former members of the Good Government Party.
Four incumbents are running for re-election. In the two ward races where there will be a new member of the City Council, there are two candidates who previously served on the City Council.
Here’s a roundup of the candidates running: