Mayor Mark Eckert discusses political future
Eleven Belleville city elected officials have terms expiring next spring and six plan to run for re-election while five others have not yet announced their plans.
Mayor Mark Eckert, Treasurer Dean Hardt, Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella, Ward 2 Alderwoman Jane Pusa, Ward 4 Alderman Johnnie Anthony and Ward 6 Alderman Bob White have announced they will run in the April 4 election.
Also, Lillian Schneider, a former alderwoman, plans to challenge Kinsella in Ward 1 and Belleville Township Trustee Michael Hagberg said he intends to run to represent Ward 5.
City Clerk Dallas Cook is awaiting the results of his race in November against St. Clair County Circuit Clerk Kahalah Clay. Meanwhile, Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle, Ward 5 Alderman Phillip Silsby, Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti and Ward 8 Alderman James Musgrove have not decided whether to run for re-election.
On Sept. 20, candidates were allowed to begin collecting signatures needed to file petitions to run for municipal office. Those petitions are due between Dec. 12 and Dec. 19.
The city pays $83,152 for the mayor’s position, $72,066 for the clerk and treasurer positions and $11,086 to each alderman.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s happening with each position that has a term ending in 2017:
Eckert, 60, said he will seek to be elected for a fourth time. He was appointed to the office in December 2004 and then won elections in 2005, 2009 and 2013.
This will be the first election that he runs as an independent. He was leader of the Good Government Party that disbanded in 2014.
“I’m running to continue to try to grow Belleville,” Eckert said.
He said some elected officials will take aim at running for higher offices but he doesn’t have any plans to run for another office.
“My love and my focus has been Belleville since 1997 when I ran for alderman,” Eckert said.
“There’s a lot of stuff started that I want to see completed,” he said. “I’m very upbeat about what we can get accomplished in another four years.”
My love and my focus has been Belleville since 1997 when I ran for alderman. I’m very upbeat about what we can get accomplished in another four years.
Mayor Mark Eckert
Eckert cited the downtown streetscape and the expansion of Lindenwood University-Belleville as two developments during his tenure as mayor.
“We’ve totally redone our downtown streetscape. We’ve got a whole new look downtown,” he said.
On Lindenwood taking over the former Belleville West High School, he said: “It’s just unbelievable what that’s done for Belleville and what that has provided for that central corridor that was really aging and really was showing some wear.”
He said he looks forward to the Hofbräuhaus development off Illinois 15 coming to fruition. He said the progress on the development announced in early 2015 has been slower than he would have liked but remains optimistic about the project. The developers initially said the Hofbräuhaus would be open this past summer but now they report an opening date has not yet been set.
“Do I wish it was sooner? Sure,” Eckert said. “It’s a major project that’s had a lot of moving parts.”
Eckert defeated Ward 7 Alderman Phil Elmore and Joe Hayden, the former alderman for Ward 5, in the 2013 election.
Elmore said family obligations prevent him from running for mayor again.
Hayden said he is concentrating on the November election currently and is serving as campaign manager for Rodger Cook, a Republican who is challenging St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern, who is a Democrat. Rodger Cook is the father of City Clerk Dallas Cook and is a former mayor of Belleville.
Hayden said that after the November election, he will turn his focus to the spring election.
Ward 8 Alderman Roger Wigginton, who was elected to the City Council in 2015, said that before he was elected, he had considered running for mayor against Eckert. But now he has ruled that out and will support Eckert in the April election.
“I’ve always been very, very involved in the city before I was ever an alderman,” Wigginton said. For example, he said he has served as co-chairman of the West Belleville Promotional Committee for 14 years. Based on his experience on seven committees, two boards and owning a clothing store on West Main Street, Wigginton said he has learned how time-consuming the mayor’s job can be.
“It’s real easy to be an armchair quarterback,” Wigginton said. “Until you’re there involved in the process, it’s a whole different ballgame.”
City Clerk Dallas Cook was elected in 2013 as an independent and is now running as a Republican to unseat St. Clair County Circuit Clerk Kahalah Clay, a Democrat, on Nov. 8.
“I am currently seeking office of circuit clerk and I intend to be successful and move on over to the county,” said Cook, 31. “Now of course if I don’t win, then we have to look at what I can do to be most beneficial to the city of Belleville to continue serve the people.”
Treasurer Dean Hardt said he plans on running again.
Hardt, 44, was elected to a four-year term as treasurer in 2013 as an independent and he plans to run for re-election as an independent.
“I’ve enjoyed working in this position,” Hardt said. “There’s a lot to be done. I found it challenging and I feel that I could help the city by continuing to be the treasurer.”
When he campaigned in 2013, Hardt said he would investigate whether the treasurer’s position could be eliminated.
But last year he announced that he believes the city treasurer’s position should remain in place because of the responsibilities it entails.
Hardt previously was an alderman in Ward 4 from 2011 to 2013.
Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella has been on the City Council since 2008 and he plans to run for re-election as an independent. He previously was a member of the Good Government Party.
Kinsella, 69, said the public often wants to criticize elected officials.
And I think it’s time that instead of complaining about the politicians, we actually go to electing some good ones and put the emphasis on getting behind someone who shares the values we have, somebody who can articulate what the people need and I think we have to stop bashing and start electing. That’s basically why I’m running again.
Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella
“And I think it’s time that instead of complaining about the politicians, we actually go to electing some good ones and put the emphasis on getting behind someone who shares the values we have, somebody who can articulate what the people need and I think we have to stop bashing and start electing,” Kinsella said. “That’s basically why I’m running again.”
Kinsella was appointed to the City Council in 2008 and then was elected in 2009 and 2013. He previously served on the school board for Belleville School District 118 for 23 years.
Lillian Schneider, who previously served on the City Council from 2011 to 2015, said she intends to challenge Kinsella.
“You’ve got to get out and talk to the people and see where the problems are,” Schneider said. “That’s why I want to run. I like being out talking to the people and trying to get things done.”
You’ve got to get out and talk to the people and see where the problems are. That’s why I want to run. I like being out talking to the people and trying to get things done.
Lillian Schneider, candidate for Ward 1
Schneider, 61, said if she’s elected, she would take a close look how often the city grants tax incentives to businesses.
“I’m not afraid of saying no to it,” said Schneider, who plans to run as an independent as she did in 2011.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Jane Pusa said she intends to run as an independent.
Pusa was appointed to her Ward 2 post last year following the death of former Alderwoman Janet Schmidt. Pusa, 71, also served on the City Council from 1993 to 1997.
“Everything is just going so good,” Pusa said. “The redevelopment in the city is just so big and I don’t want to miss it.”
Pusa said the city may start a streetscape project to improve West Main Street from Sixth Street to 17th Street next year in her ward. “And I would like to see all that go through,” she said.
Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle, 61, was elected to the council in 2013 as an independent. He said it is too early for him to say whether he will file for re-election in December.
Ward 4 Alderman Johnnie Anthony, 68, said he will run for re-election. Anthony has served on the council twice. He was appointed to the council in 2004 and then elected in 2005. He lost the 2009 and 2011 elections but then won the 2013 election when he was with the Good Government Party.
“Since I’m the only African-American on the council … I think the council should reflect” the diversity of the city, he said.
Anthony also said he would like to see progress on the Hofbräuhaus development and the renovation of the old Mad Pricer grocery site in the 6400 block of West Main Street.
“We’re still working on a lot of stuff that I want to get finished,” Anthony said. He also wants the city to repair more streets. “Hopefully we’re going to be able to do that after we get some of these other projects on and get some money generated.”
Ward 5 Alderman Phillip Silsby, 69, said he has not decided if he will run for re-election. He was appointed to the council in 2004 and elected to the seat in 2005, 2009 and 2013 as a member of the Good Government Party.
“I don’t know at this point,” said Silsby, who is a retired principal of Belleville West High School. “I’m still considering my options.”
Belleville Township Trustee Michael Hagberg, 56, said he intends to run as an independent for Ward 5 alderman.
“I enjoy working with residents who need help requesting city services,” Hagberg said in an email. “I also look forward to being able to voice citizens’ concerns over how their limited tax dollars are spent.”
The city and township are in the process of shutting down the township, which is scheduled to be dissolved next spring.
Ward 6 Alderman Bob White, 70, was elected to the City Council in 2013 as an independent and he wants to run for re-election.
“I feel basically that I’ve been doing a good job representing the constituents in Ward 6,” White said. “I really do enjoy helping people and I’ve had that experience for the last three-plus years and I’d like to continue that relationship. That’s my focus in trying to help people.”
I feel basically that I’ve been doing a good job representing the constituents in Ward 6. I really do enjoy helping people and I’ve had that experience for the last three-plus years and I’d like to continue that relationship. That’s my focus in trying to help people.
Ward 6 Alderman Bob White
White also said there are “unfinished issues facing the city” that he wants to monitor, including the Hofbräuhaus development off Illinois 15 and the possible redevelopment of the Meredith Home on the Public Square.
Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti, 43, was elected in 2013 as an independent. He said he’s “leaning toward running” for re-election and expects to make a final decision this month.
Ward 8 Alderman James Musgrove, 81, said he is undecided about whether he will run for re-election. He was elected to the post in 2005, 2009 and 2013 as part of the Good Government Party.