Metro-East News

Kern, Cook are in a rematch of 1997 election — but for a different office

Mark Kern for St. Clair County Board chairman

Incumbent St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern explains why he should be re-elected on Nov. 8.
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Incumbent St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern explains why he should be re-elected on Nov. 8.

No, this isn’t a rerun of the 1997 Belleville mayoral race.

The race for St. Clair County Board chairman features three-term incumbent Mark Kern, a Democrat, and former Belleville Mayor Rodger Cook, a Republican, who have faced off before.

Kern and Cook previously ran against each other in 1997, when Kern defeated Cook in his re-election bid for mayor of Belleville.

Cook, a Republican, is a member of the St. Clair County Freedom Coalition. Kern is a Democrat.

The two differ on the direction of MidAmerica Airport.

Kern has said the airport is moving its way toward breaking even on day-to-day costs. He has pointed to businesses such as Boeing and North Bay Produce working out of the airport, and has repeatedly said the airport helps keep Scott Air Force Base open and protects it from base realignment closures.

He also has said he believes the Public Building Commission should have oversight of the airport.

“We field inquiries every week from companies interested in the airport and the adjacent industrial park,” Kern wrote in a candidate questionnaire. “We are on the right track and need to continue our progress.”

Cook, however, said the taxpayer-funded subsidies for the airport are in the tens of millions of dollars. He also said he believes oversight of the airport should be shifted to the County Board rather than being with the PBC, which has its members appointed by the County Board chairman.

“Then the board as elected by the people will be held accountable to the people that they are elected to serve,” Cook wrote in a candidate questionnaire.

Cook also pledged to serve a maximum of two terms if he’s elected.

In recent years, the county has cut back on expenses and number of employees in order to avoid increasing its property tax rate, Kern said.

“We aren’t looking at any new taxes or fees,” Kern wrote in a questionnaire. “We are focused instead on cutting costs and holding the line on our budgets. Keeping taxes down is important to our economic development strategy.”

Cook said the county is not meeting the public’s needs.

“True public forums within the various communities are the way to get the pulse of the people and their desires on how their tax dollars should be spent,” Cook wrote. “We need more focus and funding to fight and deter crime... I believe further cuts can be made while still promoting greater services, programs and infrastructure improvements within our county.”

In this election, Kern has had a whopping money advantage, having tens of thousands of dollars more than Cook.

In the third quarter alone, Kern had $100,500 in contributions, almost all from himself or his mother, according to the State Board of Elections. Cook raised about $6,200 during the same period.

“I’m running a grassroots campaign, not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV. I’m able to buy signs, (print) my literature,” Cook said. “There’s not a city or village I haven’t been to in this county.”

Cook has been limited to signs along the road, and getting air time on Bob Romanik’s radio show. He said he’s appeared on the show about 10 times since the primaries.

Cook said he has traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak to former governmental officials, including aviation experts, intelligence officers and staffers of elected officials about St. Clair County.

He said he got information about funding for levee upgrades, the NGA site-selection process, and MidAmerica Airport from the perspective of those officials.

“The whole goal was to share the story to see what they know about what’s going on here in St. Clair County,” Cook said.

“I wanted to be ready, Day One,” Cook said.

Kern has spent campaign money on television commercials, as well as renting billboard space. Kern has pushed his message about the importance of MidAmerica Airport and Scott Air Force Base, and improvement of levees and infrastructure projects around the county, including around the riverfront.

Kern pointed to the new Illinois 3 connection, a new ramp from the Martin Luther King Bridge that will connect to southbound Illinois 3, and planned work along Front Street, which has financial support from Cargill, Bunge-SCF Grain, and the Casino Queen.

Kern also said he is proud of the Freightway District initiative which coordinates and promotes the St. Louis region’s capacity to be a freight hub.

“The exciting thing is it’s all coming together,” Kern said.

Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce Forum

The Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee has scheduled a Voters Forum at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Belleville West High School in the Performing Arts Center at 4063 Frank Scott Parkway West.

Mark Kern and Rodger Cook are scheduled to participate, according to Wendy Pfeil, the executive director of the chamber.

Also scheduled to participate are St. Clair County Circuit Clerk Kahalah Clay, a Democrat, and her Republican opponent Dallas Cook, who is the Belleville City Clerk; State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, and his Republican opponent Katherine Ruocco of Swansea; as well as Bob Romanik, a Republican, and his opponent Latoya Greenwood, a Democrat, who are running for state representative in the 114th District.

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