Former Chicago Ald. Dick Mell, one of the most gregarious political creatures ever to grace City Hall, is back in the game with a new lobbying firm he founded with the help of daughter Patti Blagojevich.
The longtime 33rd Ward alderman is doing some lobbying. He’s doing some consulting. But the normally loquacious Mell didn’t have much to say about his new venture, how it works and what his daughter’s involvement is.
“Patti is helping me” run the firm and does all its paperwork, Mell said.
He’s the latest former alderman to turn lobbyist, joining nine of his former colleagues, including Helen Shiller (46th), William J.P. Banks (36th), Terry Gabinski (32nd), Vi Daley (43rd) and Eugene Schulter (47th).
Mell said the new gig is something to keep him busy in retirement and also a way to financially help his daughter, Illinois’ former first lady. Her husband, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, is serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison for political corruption, while she raises their two daughters.
Patti Blagojevich is listed as the firm’s agent in state documents. She is not doing any lobbying, Mell said, and she is not registered as one with the city.
She once worked in the real estate business, an issue that came up at her husband’s first trial. She’s still registered with the state as a real estate managing broker, and state records show she also has an insurance license.
State records also list her as president of both the Business Insurance Specialist Inc. and Blue Suede Shoes Entertainment Inc. — the latter presumably after her husband’s affinity for Elvis Presley, though it’s unclear if those ventures are active. On her LinkedIn page, she lists herself as a financial adviser for Wunderlich Securities. An attempt to reach her was not successful.
At one point, the Blagojevich home was listed for sale, but it's now off the market and Patti Blagojevich and her two children continue to live there.
Mell retired before the implementation of a new revolving door policy that as of Jan. 1 bars aldermen from lobbying the city for one year after their last day in office.
The firm is called the Maytag Group, taking its name from the address of Mell’s summer home in Wisconsin. Since forming last September, Maytag lists two clients, according to disclosure documents filed with the city. They are MCZ Development Corp., a large Chicago-based residential developer founded by Michael Lerner, and G.A. Paving LLC, a large Bellwood-based paving firm that does work for Peoples Gas and other firms in the city but has no city contracts.
Mell helped MCZ present development plans to the city Plan Commission, aldermen, city housing officials and the mayor’s office, according to lobbyist disclosure forms. The firm paid him $3,000 for lobbying, according to Mell’s city disclosure filings. A call placed to Lerner was not returned.
Mell helps G.A. Paving keep up with changing Chicago Department of Transportation regulations, said George Angelillo, who along with his wife, Debbie, owns the paving company. “He makes sure we have all the information we need to make sure we are compliant,” said Angelillo, who added that he knows Mell for years and called him “a good guy.”
The former alderman helped GA Paving clarify city contract rules and permit processes, city disclosure forms indicate. Mell reported that GA Paving has paid him $950 for his lobbying work.
What Mell is paid for his non-lobbying consulting services is unclear — that’s not something he’s required to list.
Mell, 75, is independently wealthy after building up and selling a spring manufacturing business. Last year, he retired as 33rd Ward alderman. His other daughter, Deb Mell, succeeded him when Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her to the job.
During his 38 years as alderman, Mell was known as one of the council’s most powerful aldermen, both because he was chairman of the Rules Committee and ran a patronage-rich Democratic ward organization that could turn out the vote.
He maintains his position as 33rd Ward Democratic committeeman, and in March helped former aide Jaime Andrade win the Democratic nomination for Deb Mell’s former seat in the General Assembly. He also helped Luis Arroyo Jr. win the Democratic nomination for a seat on the Cook County Board. G.A. Paving, one of Mell’s lobbying clients, contributed $5,000 to Andrade’s campaign fund.
Mell’s ability to help Andrade and Arroyo win hotly contested races showed that the political operator some colleagues called “the old gringo” is still not to be discounted at the polls.
Mell is not the first one in his family to make some money lobbying City Hall. His son, Richard D. Mell, was registered as a lobbyist until last July 1. The younger Mell lobbied for Novak Construction, which at one point paid him a $2,000-a-month retainer, and American Asphalt Surface Recycling, according to documents he filed with the city Board of Ethics.
Novak Construction contributed more than $61,000 to former Gov. Blagojevich’s campaigns and nearly $110,000 to the campaigns of Dick Mell, his ward organization and his daughter Deb Mell, according to state campaign finance reports.
Former Ald. Mell said his son now concentrates on a real estate business.
Shiller, another ex-alderman-turned-lobbyist, is now in the running for a job heading up a new City Council Office of Financial Analysis.
Until last July, Shiller worked for her son, Brendan Shiller, who owns Lakeview Strategy Group and is registered city lobbyist. Pooh Bah Entertainment, which runs a strip club in the city, has paid $170,000 to him since July 2012, as the city settled a long-running legal dispute with the club and the council moved to allow greater levels of nudity at that type of establishment, according to reports he filed with the city.
Banks, the longtime head of the city Zoning Committee, is an attorney representing many firms seeking zoning changes before the council.
Tribune reporter John Chase contributed.
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