State Rep. Deborah Mell was sworn in as a member of the Chicago City Council on Wednesday, hours after Mayor Rahm Emanuel named her as a replacement for her father after facing a politically awkward predicament.
As Dick Mell looked on, his daughter was sworn in to the 33rd Ward seat that he'd held for nearly 40 years. Joining Mell to watch was her sister Patti Blagojevich, the wife of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted of corruption charges and is now in federal prison.
"She has grown up in the ward, lived in the ward, it's in her soul, the 33rd ward," Patti Blagojevich said after the swearing in. "She grew up with my dad as a great example of constituent service and serving the public and I think she's going to carry on in that tradition of (putting) people first."
Dick Mell, the powerful Democratic lawmaker, who has spoken glowingly of the good old days of Chicago patronage politics, argued in favor of his daughter's selection despite criticism that her appointment could be seen as nepotism.
Emanuel -- who has been pushing since taking office to hire employees based on merit, not by who's related to whom and who's owed a favor -- said the progressive state representative wasn't assured the spot. But, he said, she deserved it.
"Some people can't get past the name `Mell,"' the mayor said after the swearing in. But, he told reporters that if they focused on her record as a state representative on issues such as gun control and housing and her commitment to public service, "You would see this is the right person for this choice to fill this position."
Twelve people were considered for the post by a committee that also offered input during what the mayor said was a "thorough" selection process. Emanuel made the final selection.
Before she was sworn in, one alderman criticized the appointment by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
"I like what she stands for, but we are not a monarchy, we are a democracy -- let's start acting like it," said Alderman Bob Fioretti.
Deborah Mell acknowledged her critics, but said that she's excited to get to work.
"That just makes me work even harder," she said. "And I have something to prove and you will not question my passion and my hard work."
Before she was chosen, Emanuel said Mell was never guaranteed the job because of her name, but that she wouldn't be excluded because of it either.
Mell joined the legislature in 2009. She's the first open lesbian on the council.
Democratic leaders in Mell's legislative district will choose a replacement to fill her seat until the next election. Mell has said she would like another lesbian to replace her and that she hopes whoever gets the job will support legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.