Second in a series on North Chicago’s mayoral candidates in the Feb. 26 Democratic primary
Updated: April 21, 2013 3:08AM
North Chicago mayoral candidate Bobby Allen came to the city from rural Arkansas in 1970 looking for work and he found much more.
As a 16-year-old nurse assistant that summer at the VA hospital, Allen learned compassion, he said. Living with an older sister on Dickey Street, he found the people of North Chicago were a friendly lot. Strangers, many who had also migrated from down South, stopped to offer rides on his long walks to and from work, and showed a genuine interest in who he was and why he had come.
“What I found in North Chicago was a home away from home,” Allen said. “What I learned was that a little kindness goes a long way in making people happy.”
He returned to North Chicago, for good, two years later. Elected alderman of the 4th Ward in 2007, he serves as chair of the council’s finance committee. He is not known for his verbosity.
“I don’t talk just to hear myself talk,” he said.
Allen, 59, has always “wanted more” out of life. He counted himself a success when he accomplished three goals: A happy marriage, a good job and homeownership. He wants to bring back the opportunity he found in North Chicago 40 years ago, he said.
“It takes a team,” he said. “You have to build a team to work together. And you set the bar high. I came up here with nothing. You have to work hard and give 110 percent. People will see that and help you along the way. A city is all about its citizens. We all have to get involved.”
When Allen learned he wasn’t earning enough to qualify to buy a home, he found a better job as a millwright at Johns Manville in Waukegan. He returned to the same Realtor a year later and handed over his W-2. He was promoted to supervisor at JM and after the plant closed, he opened Powerhouse Gym, which he ran in a hands-on management style for more than a decade. He now drives truck part-time for Waukegan Tire.
Public safety is the No. 1 issue in North Chicago, Allen said. Transparency and accountability are next.
“I would talk to every officer on our police force and sit down with the chief once a month.” Allen said. “I would sit down with employees to identify problems. As mayor, you can get to the root of problems and you have the power to fix them.”
“We have a perception problem in North Chicago that it’s unsafe,” Allen said. “We have to change that perception. I’ve got to clean my city up and I need people to help.”
Allen was one of four aldermen who voted in 2011 to recommend the suspension of then-Police Chief Mike Newsome after a flurry of police brutality complaints. “I can make tough decisions,” Allen said. Newsome has since been indicted for alleged theft from the department.
He wants to rotate members of various boards as a way to increase citizen involvement, “make people understand they’re part of the city,” and “get new blood in.”
“We have to listen to our businesses,” he said. “They can tell us things we don’t see. That’s very important to a mayor. If we don’t care about the ones we’ve already got, how are we going to bring in new ones?”
Allen said he will bring unity to the City Council, and respect.
“Once we show we can respect each other, businesses will come invest in the community,” he said. “I believe this city deserves better than it’s getting now. I know mayor is a tough job. But I’m willing to put everything on the line − my integrity, my principles and morals — to make a difference.