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Op-Ed Mon Jul 29 2013
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.