Deb Mell, Andrade left as political ‘orphans’


No politician wants to be an "orphan." They crave having a mentor and protector who gets them elected and keeps them in office.

Dick Mell’s demise in the 33rd Ward makes "orphans" of his proteges — his daughter Deb Mell, who is the ward’s alderman, and his former aide Jaime Andrade, who is the area’s state representative. The protector is gone. They’re on their own.

Mell was defeated in the March 15 election for Democratic ward committeeman, after a recount by 50 votes. The winner was Aaron Goldstein. The final tally was 5,457-5,407, with Mell winning 16 of the ward’s 28 precincts and Goldstein taking 12. Mell got more than 60 percent of the vote in three precincts, and Goldstein got more than 60 percent in four.

For Mell, the ward boss and alderman from 1975 until his 2013 resignation, the loss is beyond embarrassing. Goldstein, a criminal defense attorney, ran against Andrade in the 2014 Democratic primary for state representative and got a measly 10.9 percent of the vote in the ward. He was hardly a political Goliath, yet his 248 votes in 2014 mushroomed to 5,457 votes in 2016.

Mell’s facile excuse is that he didn’t care, didn’t want the job any more, didn’t rouse himself and his organization to campaign energetically, and wasn’t sad that he lost. That is not true, Goldstein said.

Goldstein asserted that his election day workers were outnumbered 15-1 by Mell’s at every polling place, that there were at least Mell five workers in every precinct, and that Mell sent out a wardwide mailing piece accusing Goldstein of wanting to allow convicted sex offenders to live in the ward’s numerous Section 8 apartments, based on a 2014 questionnaire answer by Goldstein that he opposed applicant discrimination. He said that Mell spent $94,004 to his $9,727, that state Representative Luis Arroyo (D-3), the adjacent 36th Ward Democratic committeeman and an emerging area Hispanic boss, sent close to 50 workers into the ward for Mell, and that Arroyo offered him a judgeship if he didn’t run against Mell. If that’s not aroused I don’t know what is.

Also, the ever-wily Mell, who had endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, distributed disingenuous fliers throughout the ward, one picturing Mell and Bernie Sanders and urging a vote for both and another picturing Mell and Clinton and urging a vote for both.

According to Goldstein, the Clinton/Mell piece was delivered to every white woman’s household and to every Democratic-voting household in the predominantly white ethnic areas west of Sacramento Avenue and north of Irving Park Road. The Sanders/Mell piece was delivered in the upscale Manor neighborhood, a string of 10 east-west streets north of Montrose Avenue and east of Manor Avenue, just west of the Chicago River, in Albany Park, which is east of Sacramento between Montrose Avenue and Foster Avenue, and in the Hispanic-majority precincts south of Irving Park to Diversey Avenue.

Mell, known as "Old Gringo," was endorsed by Hispanic heavyweights U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4), state Senator Iris Martinez (D-20) and Arroyo. Andrade ran a joint campaign with Mell in the ward. Andrade was opposed in the March primary by Harish Patel, a self-proclaimed "serial social worker" whose theme was that Andrade was insufficiently liberal. Patel flopped. Andrade beat him districtwide 12,886-8,812 (with 59.4 percent of the vote) and in his home 33rd Ward 6,746-3,488 (with 62.2 percent), where he ran 1,339 votes ahead of Mell. Andrade benefited from a torrent of Mike Madigan-paid mailers touting Andrade’s "opposition" to Governor Rauner’s agenda, establishing his "liberal" bona fides. With the speaker as his new mentor, Andrade is becoming better positioned to keep his seat. During the 2015-16 election cycle, through March 31, Andrade spent $228,112 and Patel spent $128,473.

Interestingly, Martinez, who has been a state senator since 2002, lives in the 33rd Ward and had pondered challenging Dick Mell in 2016 and Deb Mell in 2015. She is aligned with the area’s reform/liberal Hispanic faction, but the rival Arroyo/Berrios/Maldonado faction did not field an opponent against her this year. She won the primary unopposed with 37,221 votes, getting 7,806 votes in the 33rd Ward. Her term expires in 2018.

"He (Mell) definitely wanted to keep his job, but the voters definitely didn’t want him," Goldstein said. "They wanted change."

In the presidential race, Sanders beat Clinton 7,873-5,199, getting 59.9 percent of the vote and winning all of the 33rd Ward’s precincts. According to the 2010 census, the ward is about 55 percent Hispanic, but whites are more than half the voters. The ward runs from the river to Kedzie Avenue, between Foster and Diversey.

Now the fun begins. Goldstein, age 41, said that now have any future plans other than to work for the Democratic ticket, including Clinton. He is allied with other area "progressive" Democratic committeemen and alderman, such as Aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Milly Santiago (31st) and John Arena (45th) and new 39th Ward Committeeman Robert Murphy. They are all part of the anti-Rahm Emanuel bloc.

Goldstein’s options include an aldermanic bid in 2019, another shot at Andrade or a shot at Martinez, which he could win a three-way race.

In his campaign, Goldstein stressed two "reforms." The first dealt with polling place judges, who earn $175 a day, all appointed by the respective party committeemen, but there is no Republican Party in the 33rd Ward, so Mell does all the appointing. Goldstein said that the judges should not be family or friends of Mell precinct captains. He said that polling places should not be like Mell’s ward office and that the atmosphere of 33rd Ward polling places is intimidating.

The second dealt with Democratic slating, especially for Circuit Court judges. He decried the practice of insider committeemen such as Mike Madigan, Ed Burke, John Daley, Pat O’Connor, Bill Lipinski, Joe Berrios and Mell dictating who gets slated and who gets on the bench. (Although, as noted in past columns, almost half the slated judicial candidates lost.) He said that past donations should not merit future rewards, slating should be open and all committeemen should have an opportunity to vote on all prospective candidates.

Compared to Andrade, Deb Mell’s position is the more tenuous. In 2008 she decided she wanted to go to Springfield. Her qualifications included being a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, being a gay rights activist and being Dick Mell’s daughter. It was a done deal. Dick Mell arranged to dump 12-year incumbent Democrat Rich Bradley. In Springfield, Mell pushed for gay marriage and became the first Illinois legislator to have a gay spouse, albeit married in another state.

Dick Mell is a family man — meaning he takes care of family first, like all politicians. In 1992 he arranged for his son-in-law, Rod Blagojevich, who is married to his elder daughter Patti, to be slated for state representative. Blagojevich won. In 1996 Mell made deals to get "The Kid" elected to Congress, and in 2002, when Blagojevich ran for governor, Mell made promises galore to the 101 Downstate county chairmen, implying that they would get 10 to 30 jobs each if they delivered for "The Kid." Blagojevich won the primary by 15,469 votes, due to Downstate support. For Mell, promises made are rarely promises kept. He is renowned for promising jobs or promotions to get people to work precincts or buy dinner tickets and not delivering.

Mell resigned in 2013, and he "suggested" to the mayor that his daughter be his replacement, and she was. The committeemen then named Andrade as her replacement. Deb Mell’s problem is that she is not gregarious like her father, not a born politician, and that she labored under her father’s shadow. She shared an office with him in the ward, making her appear political and servile. She also was an automatic pro-Emanuel vote.

The 2015 aldermanic election showed major voter discontent. In a turnout of 8,171, which was 2,513 less than the 10,684 in 2016, Mell got 4,103 votes (50.2 percent of the total), to 2,779 for Tim Meegan and 1,289 for Annisa Wanat. Under Chicago’s election rules, a runoff is required if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. Mell got 50 percent plus 18 votes, barely avoiding a runoff. She got a majority in 13 of the 28 precincts and a plurality in eight; in eight precincts she got more than 60 percent of the vote. She got 1,304 fewer votes than her father got in 2016 and 2,643 fewer votes than Andrade got in 2014. The Mell machine was crumbling.

The public sector and teachers’ unions spent money for Meegan mailers, while Mell spent $155,754. Meegan plans to run in 2019.

To her credit, Mell got the message. She opened her own office on Irving Park. She voted against the 2016 Emanuel budget and property tax increase. She refused to run for committeeman. She is focused on service. If she compiles an anti-Emanuel record, the Service Employees International Union and the Chicago Teachers Union will give her a pass in 2019. Mell has $31,895 in campaign funds on hand, and the now-defunct 33rd Ward Democrats have $26,012. Unlike her father, Mell cannot rely on mercenaries, including precinct workers sent into the ward by Arroyo and his crowd. She is on her own.

As for Dick Mell, he and Patti Mell incorporated the Maytag Group, a lobbying firm, in 2014. He wants to make money while his buddies are still in office.

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