When Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed state Rep. Deb Mell to replace her father on the City Council, it was another example of a tradition that’s as strong in Chicago politics as it is in the British royal family: passing on power from one generation to the next.
“Deb has credentials on paper. But continues ‘all in the family’ tradition,” tweeted the Better Government Association’s Andy Shaw.
Here are a few proposals for curtailing that tradition.
Don’t let the mayor appoint alderman: Until the early 1980s, alderman who resigned, died or were convicted were replaced with special elections. Then, the state legislature changed the law, vesting the power of appointments with the mayor. Mayor Richard M. Daley -- himself a beneficiary of nepotism -- appointed four current aldermen who were related to their predecessors. In his second aldermanic appointment, Mayor Rahm Emanuel did the same thing, giving Ald. Richard Mell’s seat to his daughter, Deb. The choice should be returned to the voters.
Don’t allow ward committeeman to replace primary candidates: Here’s another classic machine trick: win the primary, then step down as a candidate and allow committeemen to choose your replacement. That’s how Rep. Bill Lipinski passed his seat down to his son, Dan Lipinski, in 2004. If a candidate drops out after the primary, another primary should be held to choose a replacement.
Prohibit family members from donating money or resources to each others’ political campaigns: It’s (allegedly) an ethics violation to hire a family member -- although Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios does it repeatedly. Why shouldn’t it be an ethics violation to support a relative’s campaign through anything other than your own personal work? When Lisa Madigan ran for the state senate in 1998, her campaign was staffed with “Madigoons” -- legislative staffers loyal to Speaker Michael Madigan. Less directly, Madigan helped his daughter raise money by introducing her to donors at a golf outing.
Prohibit committeemen from holding other political offices: Often, politicians are able to help their children get a leg up in elective office because they control the local political apparatus. Ald. Richard Mell used his 33rd Ward organization to elect his son-in-law, Rod Blagojevich, to the state legislature, then to Congress, then to the governorship. Mell did the same thing for his daughter, Deb, forcing out an incumbent state legislator so she could have his job. Before Deb’s appointment to the council, Mell used his committeeman’s position to silence opposition from Latino aldermen, offering to appoint a Latino to her state representative’s seat. A committeeman with no outside political job would make it harder to turn a ward into a family business.
Educate yourself: Nepotism thrives because voters are lazy. They don’t pay attention to politics until Election Day. When they get into the voting booth, they vote for a familiar name, especially for obscure offices, such as state representative. Learn to vote for a candidate, not a surname.