Deb Mell Takes Over for Father as 33rd Ward Alderman

By Joe Ruppel
The Red Line Project

Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013

Deb Mell was sworn in Wednesday as the new alderman for the 33rd ward, succeeding her father, Dick Mell, in an appointment some criticized as a victory for Chicago family politics.

“I know there’s some critics out there and it just makes me work even harder,” Mell, 44, said in response to the critics, many of whom were seated only a few feet away. Minutes before, one alderman voted against her appointment and numerous others abstained from voting altogether.

Dick Mell’s retirement, which he announced earlier this month, comes after serving as the alderman for the 33rd ward for 38 years.  Deb Mell’s appointment was the second made by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Mell will serve out her father’s term, which ends in 2015.

Since 2009, Mell, a Democrat, had occupied the state representative seat for the 40th district, which is located on Chicago’s northwest side and includes parts of the 33rd ward, where she grew up.  After graduating from Cornell College in Iowa with degrees in political science and history, Mell attended culinary school in San Francisco, where she also worked as a pastry chef.

Deb Mell MugshotAs a state representative, she served as the vice-chair of the Mass Transit committee and advocated for gay rights, an intensely personal issue for Mell, who is Chicago’s first openly lesbian alderman.  Two years ago, Mell and her wife, Christin Baker, were married in Iowa in 2011.

Mell’s advocacy for gay rights began before she entered public office. In 2004, she was arrested during a marriage protest at the Cook County Clerk’s office. Since then, she has received numerous awards for her activism including the National Organization for Women award, the Civic Leadership Award from the Erie Family Health Center, and the Howard Brown Cornerstone Award for community excellence.

But for now, it is Mell’s name and family legacy, not her activism or her work as a state representative that has drawn the most attention.

After a career in manufacturing and one unsuccessful campaign for alderman, Dick Mell secured the seat for the 33rd ward in 1975 and remained it in for nearly four decades. As an alderman, Mell focused on community rehabilitation, however he will be remembered in part as the driving force behind his son-in-law’s successful bid for governor in 2002.

Mell’s sister, Patti, is the wife of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is currently serving out a 14-year prison sentence for corruption. On her first day as a freshman state representative, Mell cast the lone vote against impeaching her brother-in-law, only hours after being sworn in.

Mell’s first hours as an alderman were undeniably better.  During her appointment Wednesday, she refuted accusations of nepotism with a display of eagerness to serve Chicago.

“I have something to prove and you will not question my passion and hard work on behalf of the 33rd ward,” Mell said. 

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