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Emanuel, Mell discussed alderman’s plans to retire, mayor says

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

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Updated: February 4, 2014 6:26PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged Friday that he’s talked to Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) about the alderman’s plan to retire, but they haven’t yet discussed Mell’s desire to engineer the appointment of the alderman’s daughter State Rep. Deb Mell (D-Chicago) to replace him in the City Council.

Emanuel said Deb Mell has done a “tremendous job on her own as a state rep” and “wherever she goes in public service, she’s gonna be an addition.”

But, the mayor said Dick Mell has “been retiring for five years” without ever pulling the trigger on resignation, leading Emanuel to say he’ll believe it when he sees it.

“Like a broken watch, it will be right eventually. When that happens, we will deal with that. ... We will have a process put in place that doesn’t add burden to the taxpayers,” the mayor said.

“That said, no [final] decision’s been made by Dick Mell, and there’s no person to talk about before that. Deb ... is doing a tremendous job and I’ll say one thing: I want her to stay where she is until we get the assault weapons ban and marriage equality passed” in Springfield.

The mayor deftly danced around the subject when asked whether he has had conversations with Mell about appointing the alderman’s daughter.

“I’ve talked to him about his retirement. And he has said that he eventually will do it. So, I’ll await the phone call. As of this morning, I still haven’t gotten the phone call that he’s gonna do anything,” Emanuel said.

“There’s no reason to have a discussion until Dick decides to do something. I think everybody is getting a little ahead of themselves — maybe including Dick. Dick has talked about this for five years. ... It’s clearly on his mind. Maybe when he jumps on his desk one more time, I’ll believe it as somebody who himself has jumped on his desk once or twice.”

Despite the political tap dance by Emanuel and Dick Mell, the Civil Rights Agenda, which bills itself as Illinois’ largest LGBT civil rights advocacy organization, was treating Deb Mell’s appointment to succeed her father as a fate accompli.

“This is an historic moment as we welcome the first lesbian Council member in Chicago and the third LGBT member,” the group’s executive director Anthony Martinez said in a press release.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Mell, the City Council’s second-longest serving member, has told associates he is preparing to step down in the next few months after 38 years as a Chicago alderman.

The newspaper further reported that Mell — father-in-law of convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich — has already persuaded Emanuel to appoint Deb Mell to replace her father.

As Rules and Ethics Committee chairman, Mell controls a $160,460 annual budget, along with a handful of coveted jobs, including the City Council’s $91,180-a-year sergeant-at-arms.

Sources said Emanuel plans to transfer control over those jobs to Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), the Council’s president pro tem. That would make the Rules Committee job less desirable — especially now that a new ward map has been drawn.

Neither Mell nor his daughter returned phone calls on Friday.

But in the afternoon, Deb Mell sent out a tweet that read, “I am 100 percent focused and love my job as state rep of the 40th District.”

And during cagey television interviews that were vintage Mell, the alderman insisted that he has not yet made up his mind on whether and when to end a colorful political career that reached cartoon proportions when he jumped on his desk in the Council chambers the night aldermen chose a successor to former Mayor Harold Washington.

Mell turns 75 on May 5.

Oct. 19, 2012, was the deadline for holding a special election to fill City Council vacancies. After that, openings are filled by mayoral appointment.

A replacement to fill Deb Mell’s seat in the Illinois House would be chosen by Democratic committeemen whose wards comprise the North Side district.

Mell’s behind-the-scenes efforts to engineer the appointment of his daughter as his aldermanic replacement did not sit well with State Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), whose Senate district includes the 33rd Ward.

Martinez said she “wasn’t consulted” and was “a little taken aback” when she read about it in the Sun-Times.

“I’m kind of disappointed that, once again, we have to deal with putting somebody in a position that, I feel, is not something that, by birthright, should be given. And I don’t mean this in a negative way,” Martinez said.

Obviously referring to Hispanic population gains in the majority Hispanic ward, she said, “I’m just a little disappointed that people of that nature are not being considered by people of that ward. I think it’s time for the leadership to grow in a city where the Latino population has grown. I don’t think it’s a matter of any one person. But, I just wish there would be much more conversation on that pick.”

Contributing: Zach Buchheit

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