City Clerk Dallas Cook announced his intention to run for mayor Saturday morning in front of a small crowd at the public square, citing his “fresh ideas” as reasons voters should elect him.
Cook, 31, plans to challenge incumbent Mayor Mark Eckert in the April 4 election. Eckert, 60, has been mayor since December 2004. Cook was elected to the city clerk position as an independent in 2013, and his father, Rodger Cook, was mayor of Belleville from 1993 to 1997.
Supporters listened in freezing temperatures as Cook outlined plans for what he wants to accomplish as mayor. He said the priority in his campaign will be to address crime, and one of his first orders of business as mayor would be to replace Police Chief Bill Clay.
“I don’t feel like he’s visible in our schools, in our community,” Cook said. “I feel like the police officers are walking on egg shells. We need someone who is out there every day and who communicates better.”
Cook went on to say that the police chief is holed up in his office at the new police station and is inaccessible to the public.
The current mayor, however, defended the police chief in an interview later Saturday.
“I think Mr. Cook is greatly under-informed as to the value and the skills of Bill Clay,” Eckert said. “Chief Clay has done an outstanding job. It’s not easy when you are the administrator and boss of 84 officers and 25 civilians. He is very fair, and he is very effective.”
Cook went on to say that he would give city department heads more autonomy, accusing Eckert of “micro-managing” department heads and preventing them from doing their jobs.
“As mayor, I believe your job is to promote the city, promote a positive community and hire professionals to run their departments. Currently, the mayor runs every single department,” Cook said.
Eckert said he thinks Cook “is very sadly mistaken” about how the mayor does his job.
“I think that’s an easy thing to say when you’ve never held an office like this one. Unfortunately I don’t know that Dallas has been around enough to know what all does go on in City Hall,” Eckert said. “I feel that the last 12 years I have been very consistent and that we have accomplished a lot together.”
Eckert cited growth of Lindenwood University-Belleville, two new shopping centers, a new police station, ordinances to strengthen the housing code, tearing down derelict buildings and road-improvement projects as accomplishments achieved during his tenure.
Cook told the crowd the city’s “aging roads and infrastructure” are also key issues he hopes to address as mayor. He said he would hire an engineering firm to form a list of streets ordered from worst to best condition and would begin working on them in that order.
Cook also said he would push to eliminate Belleville Township, lower the city’s tax levy and hire a full-time city attorney. Also on his list of goals is establishing a splash pad, redirecting tax incentive district money directly to schools and expanding the city’s website to create more transparency.
Alderman Bob White, 70, was at Cook’s announcement. White is running for his second and final four-year term in April’s election, he said.
“I am in support of him,” White said. “We need new blood in office.”
Also in support of Cook is Aunyé Mabry, 27, a cashier in the city treasurer’s office who says she plans to run for city clerk. She said Cook approached her and said he believed she would be a good replacement for him as city clerk. Mabry, a Belleville native, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., and said, “Communication and people are my thing.”
Ryan Moore, 31, said he plans to run for city treasurer. Moore, a manager at a local bank and Belleville native, said he is also in support of Cook.
Cook said he had already collected between 300 and 400 candidacy signatures, though he said he hopes to collect at least 500 before officially filing paperwork to run for mayor. He said he plans to file sometime in the next week. The filing period begins Monday and ends Dec. 19.