Politics & Government

Next mayoral election isn’t until 2021, but Eckert campaign already gearing up for battle

The next mayoral election in Belleville is nearly two years away, but Mayor Mark Eckert is already lining up support for another campaign with 19 current and elected officials endorsing him.

The effort comes just months after three City Council candidates were financially backed by St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern and criticized Eckert’s administration on the campaign trail earlier this year.

It was Kern who appointed Eckert as mayor in December 2004 when Kern left his post as mayor to become the County Board chairman. Kern and his mother donated $15,600 to a political action committee for Bryan Whitaker, Randy Randolph and Chris Rothweiler.

Whitaker and Randolph lost their races while Rothweiler narrowly won his seat by three votes in the April 2 election.

Kern could not be reached for comment about the April 2021 mayoral election.

When asked whether he is running for re-election in 2021, Eckert said, “Yes, I’m certainly very interested in giving leadership a little bit longer.

“You have to wait to see how you feel and your health and everything. I feel good right now. I still enjoy coming to work every day.”

This is the earliest he has ever started plans for the next election, Eckert said.

The current officials who signed a letter supporting Eckert are City Clerk Jennifer Gain Meyer; Treasurer Dean Hardt and 10 City Council members: Johnnie Anthony, Ed Dintelman, Carmen Duco, Scott Ferguson, Joe Hazel, Ken Kinsella, Jane Pusa, Shelly Schaefer, Mary Stiehl and Roger Wigginton.

Former city officials who also signed it are Linda Fields, Andy Gaa, Mike Heisler, Joe Hubbard, Dennis Korte, Phil Silsby and Jerry Turner.

They have invited other supporters to a fundraising golf tournament and reception on Aug. 9.

Rothweiler along with Roger Barfield, Phil Elmore, Raffi Ovian, Kent Randle and Dennis Weygandt are the current City Council members who did not sign the letter.

Eckert administration

The letter signed by the Eckert supporters praised him for spearheading improvements, such as the downtown streetscape, the updated sewer treatment plant, a new fourth firehouse, a new police station, renovations at City Hall and opening Bicentennial Park. It cites planned improvements such as a new splash pad and the streetscape project on West Main Street from Sixth to 17th streets.

“It feels good to walk into City Hall and know that we have handicapped bathrooms and people don’t have to walk up steps and go through a revolving door, which in other words, if you were in a wheelchair, you couldn’t get into City Hall,” Eckert said.

Eckert said in an interview that the sewer improvements were mandated by the federal EPA and that’s why sewer rates have been raised.

Also, he said property taxes are primarily used to pay the pensions of police officers and firefighters.

Both issues previously had not been properly financed by previous administrations for several decades and that’s why property tax levies and sewer rates have been raised, Eckert said.

Eckert said he has a “lot of admiration of the past city fathers.”

But he said they “kept kicking the can” down the road on the sewer and pension funding issues.

Former opponents

Elmore, who now represents Ward 7 on the east side of town, unsuccessfully ran for mayor against Eckert in 2013.

As far as the 2021 mayoral election, Elmore said it’s too early to say whether he would run again.

“I have not given any thought to running for mayor in 2021,” he said.

“I agree with him on many subjects but I’m not required to agree with him on every subject,” Elmore said of Eckert.

Elmore said he finds that the Eckert administration does a good job managing the city’s budget with the revenue it has but was disappointed that the city did not follow his ideas about adding a municipal gas tax and a municipal tax for convenience stores to raise money for residential street improvements.

But now with Gov. J.B. Pritzker doubling the state’s gas tax on July 1, Elmore said it’s up to state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, to get road money forwarded to Belleville.

“I believe our residential Belleville streets continue to deteriorate at a pace that concerns me for the future,” Elmore said.

Dallas Cook, the former city clerk who unsuccessfully ran against Eckert for mayor in 2017, said he hasn’t been interested in returning to politics but “I can’t promise that I would rule it out either.”

Cook said he appreciated the comments Rothweiler, Randolph and Whitaker said about the Eckert administration during the campaign earlier this year.

“I think that we need to go in a different direction, so I hope that somebody else can step up to the plate and run against him because it’s definitely time for a change in Belleville,” Cook said.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

Why did we report this story?

We wanted to let BND readers know about the campaign effort that has already started for the April 2021 Belleville mayoral election.

Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and grew up in St. Louis.
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