33rd Ward Election: Can the Mell Dynasty Survive a Democratic Socialist?

Ald. Deb Mell faces perhaps her toughest challenge yet from Democratic Socialist Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez

After avoiding it by the slimmest of margins in her last election, Ald. Deb Mell is headed to a runoff election against Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez in Chicago's 33rd Ward.

Rodriguez-Sanchez took 42.1 percent of the vote and Mell earned 41.3 percent, separated by a margin of 83 votes, with a third candidate playing spoiler to send them to a runoff.

Mell ran for the first time in 2015 to defend her appointment to her father’s old seat, avoiding a runoff election by 17 votes, the slimmest of leads that materialized thanks to absentee ballots counted after Election Day.

This time around, she faced perhaps an even tougher challenge from Rodriguez-Sanchez - a Democratic Socialist that the Chicago Reader said could be “the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

Rodriguez-Sanchez is a Puerto Rican activist who currently works as an internship and career adviser for theater and dance at Columbia College.

When Mell’s last opponent Tim Meegan, a member of the Chicago Teachers Union, lost in 2015, the remnants of his campaign operation - including Rodriguez-Sanchez, a founding member - turned into the 33rd Ward Working Families independent political organization. That organization is, in part, what propelled Rodriguez-Sanchez’s campaign, plus the backing of unions like CTU and SEIU.

Mell’s father Dick Mell was once the Northwest Side kingmaker, as 33rd Ward alderman beginning in 1975, the ward’s Democratic committeeman starting the following year and the father-in-law of disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

After 38 years in office, Dick Mell resigned as alderman in 2013, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed his daughter - then a state representative in her third term - to fill his seat. He lost his position as the ward’s Democratic committeeman in 2016, meaning this time around, he isn't able to give his successor as big of a boost.

This time, Deb Mell earned the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, which pointed to her upgrades to parks in the ward and her “more progressive-leaning voice” on the City Council.

Seemingly the most important issue in the 33rd Ward - which includes parts of the Albany Park, Irving Park, Avondale and Ravenswood Manor neighborhoods - is affordable housing.

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