CHICAGO (CBS) — After months of speculation, long-time Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) has submitted his resignation letter to the mayor.
Mell has been part of the power structure of City Hall for so long that even lifelong Chicagoans forget he was elected in 1975 as an outsider, defeating a slated candidate. Within a year, he was 33rd Ward Democratic committeeman.
He voted with the “Vrdolyak 29” bloc during the Council Wars years. In the chaotic special City Council meeting that followed the death of Mayor Harold Washington Dec. 2, 1987, a photo of Mell standing atop his desk, papers in hand, trying to make a point in debate, was printed worldwide. Mell sought first to garner enough votes to be selected interim mayor but when that failed, he helped line up the votes to get then-Ald. Eugene Sawyer named as Washington’s successor.
In 2003, Mell became father-in-law of the governor, and Mell’s political army was largely responsible for helping Rod Blagojevich be elected to the legislature, Congress and as governor. But a famous, and public, falling out with Blagojevich may have been one of the early prompts to the federal prosecutors who ultimately put Blagojevich in prison. The bickering strained the relationship between Mell and Blagojevich’s wife, his daughter Patti.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel accepted the resignation, effective July 24, by saying Mell was a one-of-a-kind politician.
“He is a larger-than-life character,” Emanuel said at an unrelated event. “If you wanted to go to Central Casting and say to give me one alderman who represents the culture and history and the spirit of Chicago, Dick Mell would pop up and he would win the casting call without a doubt.”
He compared Mell to such Chicago institutions as Wrigley Field, the Billy Goat Tavern, Second City.
He said Mell has a personality that “fills up a room,” and said, “Dick will be missed.”
Mell is expected to remain 33rd Ward Democratic committeeman.
Speculation about a successor as alderman focuses on Mell’s other daughter, State Rep. Deborah Mell (D-Chicago), who has already said her goodbyes in Springfield. Ultimately, however, that choice is up to Emanuel, who said he would name a replacement in time for a July 24 swearing-in ceremony so that the ward would not go without representation. Officially, those who wish to be considered for the job can begin submitting their credentials Friday and can do so through Thursday, July 11.
The mayor will appoint a community-based commission to review the applications and submit a list of finalists from which he can choose the successor.