I don’t really know Chicago Ald. Dick Mell, but my guess from what I know of him, is that he’d be the first to tell us he’s no saint.
So, I was a bit surprised at the extent of the coverage of the announcement of his retirement, especially since it was forecast a while ago, albeit prematurely.
He is known and will always be remembered for giving all of Illinois his son-in-law Rod Blagojevich, our former Democratic governor now serving a 14-year sentence for corruption convictions at a federal prison in Colorado. Mell used his political power to move Blagojevich up the political command chain.
And for those of us who have been kicking around these parts for several decades, he also is remembered for his role in the raucous, extra-hours council meeting at which an interim replacement was chosen, for our first black mayor Harold Washington. Mell stood atop his desk shouting to be recognized formally so that he could speak.
For both of those reasons, extensive coverage was to be expected, but I was taken aback to see some editorial writers anointing him a legend. Notorious? Sure. Master strategist? Yep. But legend? That seems to connote something a bit too positive for me.
I’m a firm believer that it’s a good and constructive thing whenever people recognize that all humans, in general, and all politicians, in particular, are neither all good nor all bad.
So I think it’s probably a good sign that there were good things noted about Mell and that we had some people on our Facebook page last week urging forgiveness and empathy for former Republican Gov. George Ryan as he was released from home confinement after his corruption conviction.
Likewise, it’s important to paint a full picture of Mell and his contributions. One of the things that was suggested in the accounts of Mell’s looming departure was the notion that he might be hanging on to his political party post as ward committeeman to try to continue to exert authority over who is named his successor.
The open secret is that he wants it to be his daughter, state Rep. Deborah Mell. The Chicago Tribune editorial board suggested that Mell was keeping his political party post as Democratic ward committeeman because it gives him power, through weighted votes, over who would be named state representative should that slot happen to open up if Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel picks state Rep. Mell to be the next alderman.
A little Let’s Make a Deal, anyone?
Some of the Latino politicians in the legislative district have practically acknowledged they’re not focusing on getting one of their own chosen as alderman but are instead going to see if they can win the state representative seat.
This is one of the many games that get played all over Illinois when people resign from office. They work the system so that it’s powerful insiders who do the choosing of replacements, not the voters. They resign early and work out in advance with whichever political party officeholders who will be named the replacement. Or they check the calendar and make sure they resign so that someone gets to be named interim officeholder giving the favored insider the mantle of incumbency and the inside track on winning the seat at the next regular election.
It’s just another form of the rigging that goes on every 10 years when politicians in power shut themselves up in a room and draw district boundaries that will give them the result they desire.
Rigging in every way, shape and form is wrong. And it’s been done by both major parties all over Illinois for generations. It’s time we all demanded it stop.
Emanuel can send a strong signal that this is a new day, a new generation and that he really means to be a reformer by choosing someone other than Deborah Mell.
As others before me have noted, she’d likely make a fine alderman, just as she’s made a better state representative than her brother-in-law Rod. But this political rigging and nepotism has to end.
Emanuel can send that strong signal here. Will he?