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Defeated North Chicago mayoral hopefuls bolt Rockingham camp

North Chicago Democratic Primary candidates who will support 7th Ward Alderman Charles January April 9 electi for mayor are 4th

North Chicago Democratic Primary candidates who will support 7th Ward Alderman Charles January in the April 9 election for mayor are 4th Ward Alderman Bobby Allen, far left, 3rd Ward Alderman Valerie DeVost and real estate broker Anthony Coleman, far right.

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Updated: May 8, 2013 2:45AM

NORTH CHICAGO — For as long as anybody can remember in North Chicago — arguably the bluest city in Lake County — the Democratic primary has been the first and last stop in a campaign for elected office.

If a candidate loses the primary, they may mutter, they may moan, but they rally around the nominee and the nominee is a shoo-in. There are no Republican candidates in Lake County’s other Chicago, and independents are rare.

So call independent 7th Ward Ald. Charles January a rare bird. Not only will he challenge incumbent Mayor Leon Rockingham in the April 9 general election, but three other Democrats bested by the mayor in the Feb. 26 primary — 3rd Ward Ald. Valerie DeVost, 4th Ward Ald. Bobby Allen, and local real estate broker Anthony Coleman — will support him over their party’s chosen candidate.

The trio of challengers may have a lost the race, but they argue that their collective 61 percent of the vote shouts that residents of the city want a change in the top spot.

“Our mayor has a 39 percent approval rating,” Coleman said. “That’s low. Our constituents are calling, they’re asking ‘What’s the next step? We don’t want this guy in office.’”

Coleman, Allen and DeVost say they will actively campaign for January and ask their supporters to back him in an attempt to defeat Rockingham, who they hold responsible for city problems from A to Z.

“We deserve better and we can do better,” Allen said. “It’s time for a new vision and new direction.”

Coleman blames Rockingham, who has spent 20 years on the City Council, including eight as mayor, for the city’s financial malaise — evidenced by an estimated $25 million in bonded-debt, a lackluster credit rating and an anemic $3 million investment portfolio.

“If our community doesn’t get it together,” Coleman said, “bankruptcy is around the corner.”

January, who has locked horns with Rockingham since his election to the council in 2011, is an even rarer species than many realize. He has frequently voted Republican.

According to a voter history provided by the Lake County Clerk’s Office, he took a Republican ballot in 2008, 2010 and most recently in 2012, when he supported the unsuccessful candidacy of David Barkhausen for Lake County Board District 13.

The flip-flopping doesn’t sit well with Pete Couvall, vice chair of the Lake County Democratic Party, who stated: “Mr. January is fooling the people of North Chicago. He’s a Republican running as an independent.”

But January, 51, who said he voted for President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, said his change-up is no big deal. He is a former Lake County Democratic precinct committeeman, he said, and in the 1980s, he was an officer with the Young Democrats of Lake County. He became a Republican around age 26.

“I guess I’ve matured, I’ve changed my views,” January said. “I’m definitely an independent. I consider myself more a public servant than politician.”

January said he aims to make political offices in North Chicago non-partisan.

“We can’t have partisanship in a community that’s falling apart,” he said. “We don’t need divisiveness. We don’t need to be a Democrat or a Republican. What we need is to be representatives for the city.”

Rockingham, who defends his record and touts a $5 million budget surplus, said that January in the past made no secret of his Republican leanings. But he’s not happy about his fellow Dems jumping ship.

“They all ran as Democrats in the election,” he said. “I’m kind of surprised to see they would leave the Democratic Party and go with the independent.”

Coleman said he wasn’t phased by January’s serial voting history.

“This isn’t about Charles,” he said. “It’s about the city.”

“We’re showing the community it’s never about one candidate,” Allen said. “It’s all about the citizens of North Chicago.”

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