Dick Mell still runs the 33rd Ward | Bleader

Dick Mell still runs the 33rd Ward

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Dick Mell still throwing his weight around in his old ward.
Dick Mell may have stepped down from his job as alderman, but he's hardly given up his clout in the 33rd Ward.

Mell relinquished his City Council seat in 2013, after 38 years, then managed to get Mayor Rahm Emanuel to pick his daughter, former state representative Deb Mell, to replace him.

Dick Mell now works as a lobbyist while Deb Mell is running for her first election as alderman. She recently had some trouble after a progressive group backing her opponent Tim Meegan accused her campaign of improperly accepting ward office rent payments from her dad, which would be a violation of ethics rules for lobbyists.

The alderman insisted to the Sun-Times that it's "not dad that's donating it—it's the 33rd Ward [Regular] Democratic Organization."

All fine and well, except that Dick Mell happens to head that particular organization. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that Dick Mell is the 33rd Ward Regular Democratic Organization.

This is the same organization that once elected Dick Mell's son-in-law, Rod Blagojevich, to Congress and then built on that to ultimately make him governor. Now Mell's group is working to keep his daughter in office and, if they fail, it would signal a new era with regard to machine politics.

The organization's chief financial supporters are also longtime contributors to Mell. This past year, the group's biggest donors include state rep Jaime Andrade Jr., a longtime Dick Mell aide who took over Deb Mell's house seat when she left in 2013.

Andrade Jr. also donated more than $25,000 to Dick Mell's aldermanic campaigns.

Another donor, Novak Construction, gave $5,000 to the 33rd Ward Dems this year, on top of $27,000 he gave to Dick Mell over the past ten years. The construction firm is headed by John Novak, who's currently being sued by the city over the controversial 50-foot blue sculpture in the backyard of his Lincoln Park home.

Supporters of the former Alderman Mell also helped get the new Alderman Mell on the ballot for this election. Dennis Sharkey, the 33rd Ward Democratic Committee cotreasurer, hit the streets for signatures, records show. So did Nick Carusi, a former vice president of the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce who also used to campaign for the former alderman.

Also out hoofing it for Deb Mell was Peter Schlossman, president of the Horner Park Advisory Council and principal at Loebl Schlossman & Hackl, one of the city’s oldest architectural firms. So was Thomas Applegate, who's now executive director of the North River Commission, a community group that pushed two years ago for the Albany Park and Irving Park Special Service Area (SSA), a taxing district that falls largely in the 33rd Ward.

At least this election cycle Deb Mell remembered her own address correctly, unlike six years ago, when she was almost tossed off the ballot after fudging the address on her petitions for state rep—a catch made by her opponent, science teacher and bondage enthusiast Joe Laiacona. At the time, the Chicago Board of Elections took pity on her. She went on to beat Laiacona by more than 30 percent.

A recent poll showed more than 33 percent of likely voters favoring Mell, with 24 percent for Meegan, a teacher, and 12 percent for nonprofit consultant Annisa Wanat. Another 30 percent of the 365 survey respondents were undecided, according to an Aldertrack-commissioned poll.

If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of votes in the general election, the two candidates with the most votes will face off in a run-off election on April 7.

Deb Mell's two opponents for alderman are trying to make this election a lot tougher while her father is revving up the 33rd Ward Democratic machine to send them away.

This post has been updated to reflect that Thomas Applegate was not executive director of the North River Commission at the time he collected signatures for Deb Mell.

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