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Ald. Mell plays coy on retirement

Chicago Ald. Richard Mell (33rd pictured 2009)  |  Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Ald. Richard Mell (33rd, pictured in 2009) | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: February 7, 2013 6:33AM

Dick Mell’s little dance with reporters Friday would have been amusing if it wasn’t so annoyingly phony.

Is he, in the coming months, retiring after 38 years in City Council?

The longtime boss of the 33rd ward called a report to that effect “premature” and “inaccurate.”

Does he want to install his daughter, state Rep. Deborah Mell, in his aldermanic seat in accordance with the longstanding Chicago political practice of shameless nepotism? Mell claims to not even know his daughter’s views on that. Or if Mayor Rahm Emanuel would even appoint her.

It’s hard — scratch that, impossible — to imagine the normally chatty Ald. Mell hasn’t talked to lots of people about all this. Because he has.

Mell’s torturously parsed denials on Friday were the result of a published report by the Sun-Times’ intrepid City Hall reporter Fran Spielman who gave legs to the rumor that’s been rumbling around political circles for some time now. That the 33rd Ward alderman and political powerhouse of the Northwest Side was, at almost 75, finally going to retire after threatening to do so for years. AND that he had already put the wheels in motion with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to maneuver the appointment of his daughter, state Rep. Deborah Mell, to replace him.

Dick Mell’s dance around these questions was a fox trot compared to Mayor Emanuel’s well-practiced ballet. And so, at a morning news conference, Emanuel offered this nimble pirouette: “No [final] decision’s been made by Dick Mell, and there’s no person to talk about before that,” he said. “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.


In other words, Mell’s plan to retire — and put his kid in his place — is “premature.” UNTIL it’s not.

Deborah Mell didn’t return my phone call or text message. But to her credit, her first run for public office back in 2008 was an actual run for office. Yes, her Dad — who orchestrated the ill-fated election of son-in-law Rod Blagojevich — tried to work some magic in her state rep race also. But Deborah, who announced a run against her father’s precinct captain, incumbent Richard Bradley, seemed to buck her Dad’s attempts to move Bradley out first. And when Bradley read the handwriting on the wall and, with Dick’s backing, ran for state Senate, Deborah supported Bradley’s opponent, who won.

So give the daughter a little credit on those counts. Unlike Ed Burke, Todd Stroger, Margaret Laurino, Carrie Austin, Dan Lipinski, Emil Jones III, and hundreds of other public officials appointed and anointed to replace a parent or a spouse, Deborah Mell has yet to play that card.

She shouldn’t.

She’s built a solid record and doesn’t
need to.

Moreover, if the mayor appoints Deborah to Dick’s seat, you can bet your life the trade-off is that Emanuel gets final say on who is appointed to her legislative seat.


Who needs them?

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