2 candidates backed by Eckert win Belleville council races, while a third has a 7-vote lead

Two of the three Belleville City Council candidates backed by Mayor Mark Eckert won their races against candidates supported by St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern while a third candidate supported by Eckert had a seven-vote lead Tuesday night in unofficial vote totals.

Ward 6 Alderman Andy Gaa had 306 votes and challenger Chris Rothweiler had 299 votes with all five precincts reporting, according to unofficial results posted by the St. Clair County clerk’s office.

Eckert said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Gaa’s lead will hold up. He said four people who supported Gaa said they mailed in ballots for him.

Rothweiler said he wants to wait for all of the mail-in ballots are counted in the mandated 14-day waiting period. Rothweiler said Tuesday night that 37 mail-in ballots requested in Ward 6 had not yet been returned but St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook said the number is actually 29. Ward 2 in Belleville has 37 mail-in ballots outstanding.

Eckert said the candidates he supported took victories because the voters didn’t like the criticism his administration received in campaign fliers.

“We’re all proud of them for taking it to the streets, door to door and they talked to a lot of people and they listened and they care,” Eckert said. “You win local elections when you go door to door.”

“To say that the city of Belleville and myself didn’t fight to save St. Elizabeth’s is a lie. It hurts me,” Eckert said. “To say crime is out of control is not true. We’re working on our housing stock.”

St. Elizabeth’s Hospital moved from Belleville to O’Fallon in 2017 and one campaign flier said, “Why didn’t they fight harder to keep St. Elizabeth’s here in Belleville?”

In Ward 2, Carmen Duco defeated incumbent Mike Buettner and Randy Randolph.

In Ward 1, Alderman Joe Hazel defeated two challengers, Bryan Whitaker and Lillian Schneider.

The races pitted three candidates supported by Eckert and three candidates who received $15,600 in campaign donations from Kern, a former Belleville mayor, and his mother, Barbara Kern.

Hazel, Duco and Gaa were endorsed by Eckert while Whitaker, Randolph and Rothweiler were supported by the political action committee called Friends and Families for Belleville, which is the group that received $5,600 from Mark Kern and $10,000 from Barbara Kern.

Schneider and Buettner did not get support from either Eckert or Kern.

Campaign fliers from Whitaker, Randolph and Rothweiler criticized Eckert’s administration.

Kern, who appointed Eckert to the mayor’s post in 2004 after he was elected County Board chairman, could not be reached for comment about why he was supporting Whitaker, Randolph and Rothweiler.

Eckert, who said he donated a total of about $300 to Hazel, Duco and Gaa, said he was surprised at the amount of money donated by the Kern family.

“I don’t understand how we got here,” Eckert said of the amount of money spent by the Kern family against Hazel, Duco and Gaa.

Here are the results released Tuesday night in the contested races for the Belleville City Council:

Ward 1

Joe Hazel (incumbent): 209

Bryan Whitaker: 144

Lillian Schneider: 112

With 5 of 5 precincts reporting

Ward 2

Carmen Duco: 129

Randy Randolph: 110

Mike Buettner (incumbent): 101

With 6 of 6 precincts reporting

Ward 6

Andy Gaa (incumbent): 306

Chris Rothweiler: 299

With 5 of 5 precincts reporting

The following Belleville City Council candidates were uncontested on Tuesday: Scott Ferguson in Ward 3, where the incumbent, Alderman Scott Tyler chose not run for re-election; and incumbents Raffi Ovian in Ward 4; Ed Dintelman in Ward 5; Phil Elmore in Ward 7; and Roger Wigginton in Ward 8.

All of the results are considered unofficial until they are certified later in this month by the St. Clair County Clerk’s office.

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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.