"I think that Mr. Mell has been a great alderman, he's been there for the people, the family businesses, the new condos over here," said Mike Dixon, 33rd Ward resident.
Despite their knowing that Dick Mell, 75, planned to retire, 33rd Ward residents and business owners were stunned that the alderman here for the past 38 years had finally set a date.
"I'm hoping that whoever takes his place is just as open and easy to communicate with," said Sheena Kauzlarich, 33rd Ward resident.
Since he was first elected in 1975, Mell defined the phrase "ward boss." He worked for decades to help integrate the 33rd Ward's large Latino population. "He's always been very attentive to Latinos, because I think always Latinos made a very significant representation in his ward," said Ald. Danny Solis, 25th Ward.
Mell's 33rd Ward regular democratic organization grew so strong he used it to help political allies in other wards. He gained citywide notoriety when he stood on his desk to deliver a speech during the all-night debate over who should succeed the late Mayor Harold Washington.
He chaired the powerful City Council Rules Committee and helped his son-in-law Rod Blagojevich win election to the state legislature, the U.S. Congress and Governor of Illinois.
"He is a larger-than-life character, and if you wanted to go to Central Casting and say, 'Give me one alderman that represents the culture and the history and the spirit of Chicago, Dick Mell would pop up, and he would win the casting call without a doubt," said Mayor Emanuel.
Last winter, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Ald. Mell's eventual resignation would be part of a deal in which the alderman's daughter, State Rep. Deborah Mell, would be appointed by the Mayor to that 33rd Ward aldermanic position.
However, according to a press release from Mayor Emanuel's office on Wednesday, any eligible resident of the 33rd Ward will be able to submit their credentials for consideration. The Mayor will appoint a community-based commission to review the applications and submit a list of finalists for him to choose from.
Alderman Mell's retirement is effective July 24. In the press release, Mayor Emanuel said he expects to have the new Alderman sworn in at the July 24th City Council meeting so the residents of the 33rd Ward will not see a lapse in representation at City Council.