Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has chosen State Representative Deb Mell to succeed the 33rd ward seat held for decades by her father, Dick Mell. Mell resigned her state post early Wednesday morning, and was later confirmed by the City Council.
“I’m just trying to take it in,” Mell told the council. “I didn’t get much sleep last night, and I love my area. I don’t think anyone who knows me [questions] that, and how much passion I have for the people of the 33rd ward and how hard I’m gonna work on their behalf.”
The announcement was not a surprise - Mell’s name had been rumored to be the choice out of the 12 people vying for the spot. Mayor Emanuel had said Mell’s last name and familial ties would neither work for her or against her in the selection process. The mayor lauded Mell Wednesday for “breaking glass ceilings” for being the first openly lesbian member of the City Council.
Most of the City Council joined the mayor in his praise, some of them even highlighting family ties as a blessing, instead of criticizing the choice as nepotism.
As Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) put it: “it’s just the way life is.” Zalewski’s son serves as a state representative in Illinois.
Ever the historian, Ald. Ed Burke even spouted off all the family connections in the City Council’s history, including his own, adding that he couldn’t think of anything that would “make someone more proud than to succeed their parent in an office that that parent had held.”
The lone “no” vote in the council came from Ald. Bob Fioretti (2).
“I do know Deb Mell, and I like Deb Mell. And I like what she stands for. But we are not a monarchy, we are a democracy, so let’s start acting like it,” Fioretti said.
Fioretti later added that his vote wasn’t cast against Deb Mell as an individual, but rather was a vote against the process.
Mell responded to the criticism as soon as she took the floor.
“That just makes me work even harder, and I have something to prove,” she said. “And you will not question my passion and hard work on behalf of the 33rd ward.”
Deb Mell’s father and sister, Patti Blagojevich, were both in attendance for the swearing-in. Dick Mell told reporters he didn’t give his daughter any advice on her new position, and it was “her ballgame now.”
Mell added there were some things he would miss about being an alderman, saying there was no other position like it out there, but said time had passed him by.
“I don’t tweet, I don’t have Facebook, I don’t email very well, I do text a little bit,“ he said. “And when I get stacks of emails from constituents and I try to call them back and I get their voicemails, that’s what I miss. I miss that one on one conversation with the person who’s got the problem.”
As if a sign of the changing tide, shortly after Deb Mell had been sworn in by the City Council, the 33rd ward website was swiftly changed to showcase a picture of her face.
Dick Mell won’t be drifting too far away from the political spectrum. He still holds the powerful Democratic Committeeman seat, a position that gives him a weighted vote for his daughter’s successor in Springfield. Mell wouldn’t say if he had any favorites, telling reporters only that there were “many candidates.”
Deb Mell said she officially resigned from her state post Wednesday morning, and would be out in the 33rd ward as soon as Wednesday evening, meeting her new constituents.
Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ web producer. Follow her @laurenchooljian