I know that passing down an office from one generation to the next is a sacred right in Chicago. As Mayor Richard J. Daley once said, “If a man can’t put his arms around his sons and help them, then what’s the world coming to?”
But Ald. Richard Mell should have his nepotism privileges revoked. Mell put his arms around his son-in-law, half-bright assistant state’s attorney Rod Blagojevich, and lifted him all the way to the governorship. Mell, who was nicknamed “Governor-in-Law,” expected to be rewarded with clout in the governor’s office. But when Blagojevich shut down an illegal dump run by a Mell relative, Mell turned on his son-in-law, accusing Rod of trading jobs for campaign contributions. The allegations led to a federal investigation. After a trial that heaped humiliation on Illinois, Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison sentence. And it was all Mell’s fault – first, for promoting a family member, then for turning on him when he didn’t show sufficient “loyalty.”
Now, Mell is asking Mayor Rahm Emanuel to appoint his daughter, Rep. Deb Mell, to replace him as 33rd Ward alderman. You can’t blame the low-information voters for constantly plunking familiar names. They only pay attention to politics around Election Day. But the mayor should know better. Emanuel, a suburban doctor’s son who started his career with no political connections, is a representative of the meritocracy, like Barack Obama, another nobody nobody sent. If Emanuel is too easily impressed by money, he does not seem impressed by bloodlines. And he doesn’t owe Mell anything. In 2002, when Emanuel was running against former state Rep. Nancy Kaszak for Blagojevich’s old congressional seat, Mell stayed neutral. As a Mell supporter told the Reader, “We don't want to alienate any of the people running for Rod's old seat.”
Even after resigning from the City Council, Mell will still be 33-rd Ward Democratic Committeeman. Which means he’ll exert influence over his daughter, who is more likely to be “loyal” than a son-in-law was. Deb Mell should stay in the state House and work on passing the marriage equality bill. And the 33-rd Ward should get an alderman outside the family of – and the control of – Dick Mell.