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Op-Ed Mon Jul 29 2013

Chicago is Not a Monarchy

Former State Rep. Deb Mell became Ald. Deb Mell on July 24, filling the city council seat made vacant by the retirement of her father, Ald. Dick Mell. Chicago has a history of nepotism, but since the big piece of news around the world is the birth of Prince George Alexander Louis, the son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, people seem to be jumping on the idea that Chicago is in fact a monarchy.

There are numerous problems with this idea. The first is Chicago does not have a monarch. The mayor of Chicago is elected by the people, which does mean the people of Chicago did manage to elect two Daleys for multiple terms. If someone wanted to argue the mayor is the monarch because he appoints people, the problem there is that other than Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley there aren't any mayors in Chicago history who have been that closely related to each other. Mayor Rahm Emanuel isn't related to the Daley family and if Chicago really happened to be a monarchy there are plenty of Daleys in politics who could have succeeded the last mayor when he decided to not run again. Furthermore, Richard M. Daley has adult children who could have hypothetically become his heir if we wanted to continue viewing this as an actual monarchy.

It's also worth noting that there were five mayors between Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley. Michael Bilandic, Jane Byrne, Harold Washington, David Orr and Eugene Sawyer all came between them. Daley even ran in 1983 against Byrne and Washington, only to lose.

The monarchy argument also doesn't work for Ald. Deb Mell succeeding her father. In most monarchies, succession involving children usually goes through the men and then women. Dick Mell's son, Richard, would have first succeeded him in a traditional monarchy. The next in line might be Patricia Blagojevich as she's the oldest daughter, but the next in line could be another male relative of Dick Mell. Regardless of how the line of succession would go, Deb Mell would not be the immediate successor of her father in a traditional monarchy.

The argument of monarchies in Illinois politics could be expanded to the county level. John Stroger was Cook County President as was his son Todd Stroger. But unlike with the Daleys, Todd Stroger only served for one term. In 2010 Todd Stroger was trampled in the primaries and succeeded by current Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle.

As for Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios hiring his son and daughter, that's just nepotism.

People who are related to politicians aren't forced to enter politics. They chose to enter whatever career field they enter and in most cases the people elected them. No one told Lisa Madigan she had to be the Illinois Attorney General because she's the daughter of Michael Madigan. She ran for the position and the people of Illinois felt she was the right person for the job.

It isn't surprising that Deb Mell was chosen to fill her father's seat, but it is saddening as she was a very vocal member of the house. There were plenty of other people Mayor Emanuel could have picked to fill the seat instead of Deb Mell, but he is continuing with Chicago nepotism.

What is important in light of the selection of Deb Mell to replace her father is not to blame the children of politicians for getting into politics or law when they are appointed or elected to a position their parent held. In this case, don't shame her for going into politics and filling her father's seat. If you have issues with her filling the vacated seat, you should be angry at the mayor. Or you could possibly consider running against her when the time comes for electing aldermen.

Chicago has a nepotism problem and has had the problem for a very long time. The only way to really change the problem is to be the solution rather than passively complaining about the problem.

This post has been updated to include the official title of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

NameWithheld / July 29, 2013 3:02 PM

"Be the solution..."
Come on Monica you have to do better than that. It sounds like you're are blaming the victim to me. Spell it out clearly -- what can Chicagoans do to change this? Be specific.

Jank / July 29, 2013 3:32 PM

Emanuel wasn't voted in. He was appointed by Obama.

Mike Tirengel / July 29, 2013 4:39 PM

And we think it was coincidence that Chief of Staff Emanuel became Mayor and a Daley became Chief of Staff?

disgustedrant / July 29, 2013 9:55 PM

Wow, how much did Monica/GB get for this brown nosing piece? Deb and Lisahavd incridible amounts of wealth and clout due to their father's. What Monica doesn't mention - likely because she's doesn't actually know much about Chicago politics given the whole "just happened to chose" line is how much the machine rigs the game. The petitions of worthy oppenents get challenged and thrown out by crony judges. I know of one candidate who had legal signatures denied and when they showed up ar the review with affidavits and proof of residency, the judge said he was free ignire whatever evidence he chose, I live in a ward where Toni Berrios just sqeaked by a challenger witth massive spwnding on a smear campaign run out of Springfireld, a campaign so arrogant she openly berated voters who questioned her. When I volunteered to poll watch for a then independent alderman, the precinct captain falsely claimed I was not registered. Elections are far from completely rigged and I too am frustrated with some voter apathy, but the machine, and many complicit media and community leaders encourage alienation by treating anointed candidates as a done deal. Including Rahm, who managed to run despite not being a legal resident. Monica's whole argument is a strawman which pretends people are saying Chicago really is a "monarchy" rather than just a metaphor for a powerful elite. Actually "aristocracy" is a better term for wealthy powerful families passing on power to their kids and business partners (I notice you conpletely omit this part in your overly literal take).. I'm perplexed by the disingenuous and defensive tone, fhough I suspect that in her handwaving of Chicago history she's thinking these kids of power being dismissed due to their gender, rather than Chicago being equal opportunity for children who acquire power via the family name rather than merit. It's a vast list of names, some elected, others not, Monica - Jackson, Stroger, Pritzker, Barrios, Daley, Gov. Rod had family ties as well. You're weird and history challenged attempt to downplay corruption and act like it isn't top down makes me wonder which aristocrat you are paying court to,

bob / July 30, 2013 11:37 AM

Oh boy, a misguided piece from Gapers Block because they let a kid who used to write about theater write about politics.

Monica Reida / July 30, 2013 11:38 AM

a kid who used to write about theater

"Used to" is the key phrase there.

Sara / July 30, 2013 2:26 PM

"the problem there is that other than Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley there aren't any mayors in Chicago history who have been that closely related to each other. "

Carter Harrison Sr. (Mayor 1879-1887, 1893)
Carter Harrison Jr. (Mayor 1897-1905, 1911-1915)

See Whet Moser's excellent piece on the Harrisons in Chicago Magazine

albanyparker / August 4, 2013 1:21 PM

You can't just "run" for alderman. I mean, you can try, but it's actually really hard to get on a ballot. Incumbents (and their staffs) will file any electoral challenge possible to get you booted off, costing potential candidates tens of thousands of dollars if they persist.

And then there's the issue of the "committeeman" job. What does this job do? It helps slate candidates. So, if you're an incumbent or your dad (ward 33), husband (ward 39), or yourself (too numerous to list) is the the committeeman, guess what? No challengers.

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