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Ald. Deb Mell? Not so fast, Rahm

Rep. Deborah Mell D-Chicago works floor Illinois House Springfield Ill. April 28 2010. | AP file

Rep. Deborah Mell, D-Chicago, works on the floor of the Illinois House in Springfield, Ill. on April 28, 2010. | AP file

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Updated: August 16, 2013 6:09AM



It’s a triple threat.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is up against a trio of political tribulations as he mulls his appointment of a new alderman in the 33rd Ward.

After 38 years, Ald. Dick Mell is retiring, and he is going out as only Mell can. On July 5 he announced his “departure” at a 90-minute press conference, waxing nostalgically about the good old days of running his ward as a patronage haven. He plans to hold onto his committeeman’s seat, and all the hack-ish benefits that accompany it. For old ward horses like Mell, the good old days are still here.

Meanwhile, there’s frothy speculation about the risks and tricks that await the mayor, who will appoint Mell’s replacement.

Emanuel quickly appointed a five-member “screening committee” to interview applicants. The panel will recommend finalists, and the mayor will choose the new alderman before the next Chicago City Council meeting.

Emanuel’s esteemed committee will send him the names he wants, and he will pick the one he wants.

The heavy betters say he wants Dick’s daughter, State Rep. Deb Mell. Her father has been a loyal Emanuel ally. The mayor has been saying lots of nice things about her and, most important, his fangs don’t show when he says them.

The No. 1 threat is that nepotism thing. Royal political families are the lifeblood of our politics. The list of political family names could fill this space. Names like Burke, Austin, Collins, Jackson, Madigan, Daley, Lipinski, Steele, Jones, Stroger, Burnett, Cullerton, Hynes, Simon and so forth. And add Illinois’ most notorious political name — Blagojevich (a political family name by way of a Mell marriage, natch).

They gain office via appointment, election, death and scandal. However they get there, their family names give them a leg up.

A high-profile, all-in-the-family appointment like Deb Mell might peeve voters already disgruntled over yet another Daley who is running for governor and another Madigan who waits in the wings.

Threat No. 2 resides in ethnic politics, always treacherous territory in Chicago. During Dick Mell’s reign, his Northwest Side ward’s constituency has evolved from majority white to mostly Latino. While Deb Mell is a popular and respected legislator in her 40th district, she is decidedly not Hispanic.

Threat 3: If Emanuel nixes Deb Mell, he could irritate the city’s LGBT community. Mell would become the City Council’s first openly lesbian member, joining gay aldermen Tom Tunney and James Cappleman.

However, most of the city’s LGBT leadership have been reliable Emanuel lapdogs since his days as a North Side congressman.

I detect no evidence that Latino voters plan to storm City Hall over the appointment. The City Council’s Latino Caucus isn’t raising much sand.

On the nepotism front, the loudest voices will come from the reformers and good-government crowd. Emanuel lost them long ago, and they’re never coming back.

Emanuel can make a good case for Deb Mell, and he will.

After all, Mayor Richard M. Daley set the standard long ago.

“If I can’t help my sons, then they can kiss my mustache,” the Daley family kingpin once said at a Cook County committeman’s meeting.

Well . . . he didn’t actually say “mustache.” Neither will Rahm.



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