Thursday, January 15, 2009

“Aunt Deb” will still be welcome these days at the Blagojevich residence

It wasn’t the least bit surprising. State Rep. Deborah Mell, D-Chicago, performed her first act Wednesday as a state legislator from the Ravenswood and Lincoln Square neighborhoods – she voted in support of her brother-in-law.

Of course, Mell is the sister of Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich. Which makes her brother-in-law that Elvis lovin’ fool who won’t live in the Executive Mansion and whom many political people in Illinois want to take down.

WHEN THE ILLINOIS House of Representatives was forced to repeat its vote to impeach Rod Blagojevich, it came down as 117-1, with Mell being the lone Blagojevich supporter.

Personally, I’m inclined to agree with House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, who said people should “give her a break” because she was in a position that involved family.

It’s also not like her vote significantly swayed the impeachment vote. History will record that the Illinois House twice voted overwhelmingly against Blagojevich. Only people who are pathetically obsessed with the idea that absolutely everybody must despise Blagojevich (and secretly wish for him to be beaten brutally) can find something to get upset about.

Yet there is disgust being presented, even though I would have been surprised if Mell had done anything other than vote “no” when confronted with an impeachment resolution.

READING SOME OF the reader commentary offered up by various news-oriented websites presents an ugly picture of the Illinois electorate (although I wonder how many of these are out-of-staters who don’t know what they’re talking about, and likely were posting those comments at times during the day when they should have been working).

What particularly amazed me was the notion offered up by several people that Mell should have cast a vote of “present,” or perhaps should have found herself to “accidentally” be in the ladies room when the vote was taken.

“Conflict of interest” is the phrase being tossed about. She shouldn’t have had a role on Wednesday in what was a formality (since the reality that Blagojevich will be impeached and face the possibility of being removed from office came true quite some time ago).

I don’t agree.

WHAT WOULD HAVE happened had Deb Mell gone so far as to vote “present?” That would indicate a refusal to vote either “yes” or “no,” although some like people like to insist that a “present” vote might as well be a “no” because it deprives supporters of a measure of a “yes” vote needed for its approval.

How many of these same people now blasting Mell for voting “no” would be trashing her for being cowardly and hiding behind the concept of a “present” vote? Is this truly a case where Mell was going to be dumped on, regardless of what she did.

I kind of respect her action, in that she came out and took a stand. History will record (in large part because so many news organizations are going out of their way to make sure Mell’s “vote” is reported) that she did not try to engage in some legislative gobbledygook that she could later try to claim was not really a vote in favor of (or against) her brother-in-law.

She came out and picked a side. I’m sure she realizes the fact that this will now turn a portion of the electorate in her legislative district against her. In fact, if not for the fact that her father, Alderman Dick Mell, is the political powerbroker in that Northwest Side ward, I’d be wondering if this vote alone would be enough to ensure she never gets re-elected to public office.

AS IT IS, it is a good thing that Deb Mell has decided not to seek an immediate promotion to Congress. She wouldn’t get it, even with her father’s help. Besides, the dozen or so political peons running in the March 7 special election primary to replace former Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., will have an intense enough fight without Mell adding to the turmoil.

Now as it turned out Wednesday, Mell evaded reporter-types who wanted to question her about her family support. In a written statement, Mell claimed the man described in the Illinois House impeachment committee’s report does not resemble the Rod Blagojevich she has known for decades.

Then, she engaged in the piece of rhetoric that is also getting her trashed by people who want the world to be unanimously aligned against Gov. Milorod.

“I regard him as innocent until proven guilty and many of my constituents have expressed this view,” she wrote.

BELIEVE IT OR not, there are people who probably would tell you they are “good Americans” who have a problem with the notion of Mell using an “innocent until proven guilty” standard to Blagojevich.

In a technical stance, those people are correct. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has to meet that standard when he brings his criminal case against Blagojevich in U.S. District Court in Chicago some time around the year 2010.

Impeachment is a political process, and the normal legal standards of a criminal proceeding do not apply. In fact, it is totally possible that a political official can be “impeached,” then “acquitted.” That would mean he would remain in office, and the political legacy of “impeachment” would come to be seen as legislators overreacting.

Now I’m not saying I expect Blagojevich to beat the rap. I think the loss of Blagojevich’s ally, Emil Jones (due to retirement), will allow many former Blagojevich allies in the Illinois Senate to “go with the flow” and vote “yes” to convict/remove from office.

BUT IT SCARES me to think that some people have a problem with the concept that someone making an accusation against someone else ought to have to prove their argument for it to have any force.

The idea that so many political people are going to feel intimidated into a “yes” vote, or are going to perceive the whole impeachment process beginning in the Illinois Senate on Jan. 26 as “political payback” for a guy they always resented having to share political power with, ought to be seen as a problem.

And if the Illinois Senate really does not give more consideration to the thought expressed by Mell, then it runs the risk of holding proceedings that Blagojevich into a character similar to presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Both of them were impeached, but avoided being removed from office.

History is nowhere near as harsh on either man as their contemporary partisan opponents desire.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The commentary ( was more intriguing than the story itself.

The Illinois Senate was not inclined to hear Rod Blagojevich’s quotations from Abraham Lincoln that urged political people to work with him to resolve the political dispute (, rather than proceed with a “trial.”

The Illinois House of Representatives’ repeat of an impeachment vote competed with ( Hillary R. Clinton’s confirmation hearing as secretary of state for the designation of Wednesday’s top government-related story.

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