More than two years after he voted to give the mayor broad powers to bring the Olympics to Chicago in 2016, alderman Richard Mell sent an e-mail to constituents this morning asking what they think of hosting the games.

Dear 33rd Ward Residents,

I would like to ask your opinion. Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics could be the economic engine that jump-starts this city out of the global economic crisis … or it could put future generations of taxpayers on the hook for far more than  $500 million?

I am sure that most of you have been following the details regarding the 2016 bid through the media and I am sure that each one of you has your personal opinion.

Should we move ahead or should we discontinue our fight for the 2016 bid? Send your thoughts and comments to

Sincerely yours, Alderman Richard F. Mell.

The context, of course, is that Mayor Daley “blindsided” aldermen, in the words of one City Hall operative, when he told Olympic officials in Switzerland that the city would guarantee any cost overruns should Chicago be chosen to host the games. It’s not that they were shocked by the commitment itself; it’s more that they didn’t expect that he would make it overseas while they were left to explain and defend it by themselves back at home–especially when they haven’t recovered from being beaten up over rubber-stamping the parking meter lease deal.

Mell is feeling unusually sensitive at the moment. Most political organizations aren’t what they used to be since the feds put the clamps on patronage hiring and firing, and his decision to get his son-in-law elected governor didn’t turn out so well, but Mell still has plenty of clout. You could even say he’s the kind of guy who can force a sitting state legislator to vacate his seat so his own daughter can take over.

In other words, it’s notable that Mell is one of the many aldermen now bristling at the mayor and wondering aloud if he was wise to go along with so many of the boss’s recent initiatives. In December Mell voted for the meter agreement after openly admitting he hadn’t read it–or most of the other stuff that he’s asked to sign off on. Earlier this month he argued that he hadn’t had much choice because anyone who’d moved to slow it down would have been “heaped with scorn.”

Now, as Daley aides brief aldermen on Olympics issues behind closed doors, Mell is canvassing residents of his ward to see if the Olympics–and the idea of taxpayers potentially funding them–is as unpopular with constituents as the meter agreement.

I’m hearing that his office received dozens of responses within a couple hours, and that they were pretty evenly split. Among those who wrote in was 33rd Ward resident Irving Birkner, who articulated the frustration and  fatigue that seems to be widespread among Chicago taxpayers right now.

Dear Alderman Mell,

The mayor seems unwilling to change his mind or fully respond to concerns on this, so why ask the question? It seems far too late–the city is not going to withdraw its bid now, and if we’re awarded the games in October, I hardly think we’re going to turn the IOC down.

As near as I can tell, the City Council seems utterly incapable of due diligence or serving as any sort of check on the executive office. The Olympics, the parking meters, Midway, etc. all seem to be presented to citizens as faits accomplis and then after the fact your colleagues all claim they didn’t know or fully understand.

Personally, I think the idea [for the Olympics] is nice but the execution is appalling–I’m not really surprised that I’m on the hook for this. Either way, the time for outrage seems long past, so like many citizens of Chicago, I guess I’ll accept it along with the negligence and corruption that got us here.

Irving Birkner