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Dick Mell tribute: part roast, stand-up comedy, soap opera

09/11/2013  Chicago Former 33rd Ward Alderman Richard Mell (right) shakes hands with Mayor Rahm Emanuel after speaking Chicago City

09/11/2013 Chicago Former 33rd Ward Alderman Richard Mell (right) shakes hands with Mayor Rahm Emanuel after speaking to Chicago City Council members about his years of service to the city during a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, September 11, 2013. | Michael Jarecki/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 15, 2013 6:49AM

Unlike Tom Sawyer, Dick Mell won’t get a chance to attend his own funeral. But Wednesday’s City Council tribute to the retired alderman was the next closest thing.

It was part roast, part stand-up comedy and part soap opera.

Aldermen poked fun at their retired colleague in a slickly-produced video, then presented him with the infamous photo of Mell jumping on his desk the night the City Council chose a successor to former Mayor Harold Washington.

But they also paid homage to a master of the game of politics who used the formidable Northwest Side organization he built to help some colleagues and oppose others.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) said Mell’s political muscle in O’Connor’s first aldermanic run-off “changed my life,” then made a revealing comment about the 38-year veteran’s retirement.

“I admire the way you’re doing this. You’re not defeated. You’re not disgraced. And you’re not dead,” O’Connor said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the picture that made Mell famous does not capture who he really is.

“The mystery as well as the energy of Dick Mell wasn’t what happened here. It was what you did back in the 33rd Ward and all the lives you touched in your community. That is the real story of Dick Mell…Your name will go down in the history books,” he said.

Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), who succeeded her father, underscored the mayor’s point by talking about the calls she answered because her dad “felt compelled to give everyone our home number.”

She also recalled Thanksgiving dinners that had to wait while her father delivered turkeys to residents of Lathrop Homes and how “crabby” he got before family vacations because he was so worried about ward business left undone.

“I’ve only been alderman for a little while, but I get it. I totally understand, Dad. We can’t get that graffiti off fast enough,” Deb Mell said.

“I know you have regrets about the sacrifices you made on behalf of the ward. Two things. One, you married very well and we were taken care of. And two, you taught Rich and Patti and me public service.”

When it was finally his turn, Mell, 75, made the most of, what will likely be his last turn in the public spotlight.

He talked about his love affair with his late wife Marge, about a cynical news media that “won’t allow us to have heroes” and about the sage advice from a political mentor — never to do business on the phone because the FBI might be listening.

“Even today, if my son calls me, and says, `Dad, I’ve got to talk to you,’ I say, `Rich, I don’t want to hear it,’ ” Mell said.

Always emotional, a tearful Mell closed with those “regrets” Deb was talking about.

“The regrets that I have is taking time away from this family of mine….. Margie and Patti, Rich and Deb, I say here today, I wish I would have spent more time,” he said, choking back tears.

“It was this job [that prevented it]. And I tell you all, make sure you spend it with the family because it’s a demanding job. This is a great family and I’m trying to make up for it. I love you so much. I just want to tell you that I wish I could go back and read those books to you when you were babies in the crib.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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