Hello Pell? It’s Me Mell, and I am Really Mixed Up About This Election Thing
Chicago is renowned as a city where dead people and fictitious people often vote. Their cosmic, insatiable impulse to perform their civic duty overcomes the temporary impediment of burial or non-existence.
State Representative Deb Mell (D-40) is neither dead nor fictitious, but she cannot vote – an unfortunate happenstance which threatens to put her fledgling political career in the proverbial dumpster.
A candidate for public or party office need only fulfill three requirements: Have a pulse. Have a residence. And be a “qualified” – meaning registered – voter. The latter two must be within the office’s boundaries. Those running for legal office must be licensed attorneys.
Deb Mell, daughter of influential Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), is seeking re-election to her second term in 2010, and fulfills two of the three criterion: She has a pulse and resides in her Northwest Side district; but she is not a registered voter. That’s because she moved in 2009 and forgot to re-register at her new address.
Here’s a multiple choice question: Old Man Mell has been alderman since 1975. Daughter Patti married Rod Blagojevich, and Daddy-in-law facilitated Rod’s ascent from state representative to congressman to governor to national laughingstock and likely convict. Dick Mell also ejected State Representative Rich Bradley from his seat in 2008 to make way for Deb, a gay rights activist who decided that she wanted to go Springfield. Deb was raised in a political family. Deb’s failure to register after moving was:
(a) Inadvertent. (b) Incomprehensible. (c) Idiotic. (d) Inexplicable. (e) Daddy’s fault.
Answer: All of the above.
Perhaps the Democratic legislature could retroactively modify the statute. Candidates would only have to fulfill only two requirements: Have a pulse. Have a brain. Be a resident. And be a voter. In that case, Deb Mell would zoom onto the ballot, with two of four.
Joe Laiacona, a Columbia College instructor and Albany Park resident, is running for state representative in 2010 in the 40th District. The only way he can win is to oust Deb Mell from the ballot, leaving him unopposed.
According to Laiacona, Mell resided in an in-district condominium on Clybourn when she was elected in 2008. Under state law, a state legislator must reside in the district for two years prior to installation. In 2009, Mell moved to a condo on Melrose, but failed to re-register. Mell’s nominating petitions and statement of candidacy, which she filed in October, list her Melrose address.
“She’s surely a resident,” concedes Laiacona, “but she’s not a voter. She can’t be on the ballot if she’s not a registered voter.”
“I’m quite happy,” gushed Laiacona, who said that he and his election law attorney discovered Deb Mell’s oversight last summer. “We kept it a secret,” he said. The Chicago Board of Elections, in their annual purging process, mails no-forward letters to every city voter. Mell’s registration was purged from Clybourn in 2009 when the letter was returned.
“We must follow the law,” said Laiacona, with more than a tinge of sarcasm. The 40th District, which extends from Argyle to Belmont, in a crescent between Laramie and Damen, is overwhelmingly Democratic. If nominated, Laiacona will be ADD not necessarily be elected.
Deb Mell is being defended by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s election law attorneys. By listing Melrose on her petitions, she cannot claim Clybourn as her address. Mell has allegedly re-registered. Her lawyers will undoubtedly argue that she is now a resident/voter, that she didn’t have proper notice of her removal from Clybourn, and/or that the state statute regarding residency trumps the “qualified voter” attestation on the petitions. This case may go all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, of which the Democratic majority is beholden to Madigan, who helped elected them
My prediction: Deb Mell will not on the ballot.
But the Mell Machine has options:
They can run her as a primary write-in candidate, filing as a write-in by Dec. 2. Democratic turnout in the 40th District was 9,956 in 2008 and 7,029 in 2006. It will be around 7,000 on Feb. 2. The district contains all or part of the 1st, 30th, 31st, 33rd, 35th, 38th and 39th wards, for a total of 63 precincts. In the 2008 primary, the unopposed Deb Mell got 5,433 votes in the 33rd Ward, 1,417 in the 30th, and 1,569 in the 39th. Dick Mell backed Bradley in his state senate bid, and Bradley got 3,318 votes in the 33rd Ward, 1,327 in the 30th, 2,570 in the 35th, and 1,271 in the 39th. With an enormous expenditure of work and money, generating 4,000 write-in votes for Deb Mell is doable, but only in conjunction with a vicious assault on Laiacoma.
Like Deb Mell, Liancona acknowledges that he is gay, but said he has no “gay agenda. I’m running as a reform-minded, progressive independent.” He wrote for Gay Chicago magazine for 17 years, penning a “Leather Views” column under a pseudonym. Expect the content of those articles to be a huge campaign issue.
The question is: Does Mell have enough time to exploit it? The primary is only 75 days away. An anti-Laiacona campaign would be mean and nasty.
A second option is to divert Democrats into the Republican primary, where nobody filed. A write-in, to be nominated, needs 500 votes. The Republican turnout was under 1,000 in both 2006 and 2008. If Dick Mell engineered a cross-over of 600-700 Democrats into the 2010 Republican primary to write-in Deb Mell, she would win.
The Mell Machine would then have eight months to poison voters on Laiacoma. Turnout in the 2008 election was 22,607, with the Republican getting 15.1 percent; turnout in the 2006 election was 13,193, with no Republican running. In the 2010 election, turnout will be around 15,000. If Deb Mell was the Republican candidate, Big Daddy would have to deliver 8,000 controlled Democratic votes to her. That’s doable. In a one-on-one against Laiacoma, the issue would be Laiacoma, not the fact that Mell was running as a Republican.
And, thereafter, Deb would caucus with the Democrats.
A third option would be to run Deb as an independent. It takes 500 signatures to run for state representative as a major party candidate; it takes 1,400-2,240 signatures to run as an “independent,” and anybody who signed nominating petitions or voted in the primary is barred from signing an independent’s nominating petition, which must be filed in June.
The benefit: The Mell Machine would have plenty of time to personally discredit and politically disembowel Laiacoma. Mell’s legion of workers would have but one priority: Save Deb. Mell would flood the 40th District’s 63 precincts with 1,500 workers; they would promise everything to everybody; they would ignore every other Democrat on the ballot; Mell would spend whatever it takes; and they would brutalize Laiacoma.
As baseball legend Yogi Berra once said, it ain’t over until it’s over. “Dumb Deb” she may be, but Big Daddy may yet concoct a strategy to save her. Count on this: Even if Deb Mell manages to get back to Springfield for a second term, her credibility will be non-existent. She will be an object of scorn and ridicule. For a politician, her “oversight” is inexcusable.
In other local races:
10th Senate District: Contrary to Yogi’s prognostication, it’s over. Republican Alderman Brian Doherty (41st) is the next state senator.
The Democratic field to succeed incumbent Jim DeLeo (D) in this heavily Democratic district is desultory and obscure: Mary Anselmo, John Nocita, Wanda Majcher, Tom Ryan and John Mulroe. None have the stature of Doherty.
Electable Democrats, such as 38th Ward Committeeman Patti Jo Cullerton and Alderman Tom Allen (38th), declined to run. But Democratic State Senate President John Cullerton wants to protect his 37-22 majority, and will reportedly spend $500,000 to retain DeLeo’s seat. Republicans will spend an equal sum on Doherty’s behalf.
The Democratic frontrunner is Mulroe, an Edison Park attorney who lost the 10th subcircuit Democratic primary for judge in 2008. Mulroe is backed by 41st Ward Democratic Committeeman Mary O’Connor, and, according to area sources, by Cullerton and Alderman Pat Levar (45th). Anselmo is supported by 36th Ward Democratic Committeeman Bill Banks, the ward’s former alderman.
“They’re trying to divide my base,” said Doherty of Mulroe, who he claimed was a longtime family friend, and that Mulroe “promised he would not run against me.” Doherty’s base is in the 41stWard and among Irish-American voters.
The outlook: Turnout was 21,949 in 2006, when DeLeo ran unopposed in the primary. It will be closer to 25,000 in 2010. In a four-way race, 8,000 votes will clinch it. Banks can easily produce 5,000 votes for Anselmo in his ward; but Mulroe can counter with 8,000 votes in the 41st, 45th and 38th wards. Majcher will have appeal to Polish-American voters, and Nocita and Ryan have a base in the 41st Ward. Make Mulroe a slight favorite.
Russ Stewart is a Political Analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer
image Cardinal George Pell at Newman’s Oratory. There is no evidence that Deb Mell contacted Cardinal Pell as part of a punchy headline or otherwise.