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Mell’s rule: Royal succession, Chicago style

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces Wednesday appointment state Rep. Deb Mell center replace her father as 33rd Ward alderman. Mell is

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces Wednesday the appointment of state Rep. Deb Mell, center, to replace her father as 33rd Ward alderman. Mell is accompanied by her wife, Christin Baker.

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Updated: August 26, 2013 4:15PM

The birth this week of the Prince of Cambridge is a good time to be reminded Chicago has its own version of royal succession.

On Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed state Rep. Deb Mell to replace her retiring father, Dick Mell, as alderman of the Northwest Side’s 33rd Ward. It was as predictable as Britain’s system of determining who’s in line for the throne. The only thing missing was the chiming of bells at Westminster Abbey.

Earlier this month, we proposed the Mell Rule: No politician should be permitted to bestow his or her elected office upon a relative, even if the beneficiary is a decent public servant like Deb Mell. We named the rule after Dick Mell, a master political strategist, who brazenly timed his retirement midterm to give his daughter the advantage of incumbency when it’s time to face actual voters in 2015.

Instead, Emanuel followed his own rule: Pay lip service to transparency and the formal process of running a dozen names through a special five-person committee, but don’t anger Dick Mell, who will remain a powerful ward committeeman. Emanuel adhered to a script that — back in January — Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman disclosed was the behind-the-scenes plan.

Chicago has a long tradition of passing elected positions from one generation to the next. U.S. Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.) timed his retirement to give his southwest suburban seat to his son, Dan. Todd Stroger took his dad’s place on the ballot to become Cook County president in a deal that also gave Ald. William Beavers’ City Council seat to his daughter, Darcel Beavers. Ald. Marge Laurino inherited her seat from her father Anthony Laurino and Ald. Carrie Austin replaced her late husband, Lemuel Austin. Ald. Edward M. Burke, who replaced his father in 1969, read a long list of names at Deb Mell’s swearing-in of families that sent multiple members to the City Council.

This system works well for the insiders, but not so well for the rest of us. Remember, it was Dick Mell who worked the system behind scenes to send his son-in-law, Rod Blagojevich, all the way to the governor’s mansion.

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