Papa Mell offered some revealing observations about how Chicago politics really works at the Hideout earlier this week.
  • Michael Jarecki/Sun-Times Media
  • Papa Mell offered some revealing observations about how Chicago politics really works at the Hideout earlier this week.

If I were Mayor Rahm, I’d say that our opening-night gig at the Hideout was such a smashing success that Mick Dumke and I should replace David Letterman when he retires.

But alas, I’m not blessed with the mayor’s magical ability to spread the good news even when there isn’t any and he has to make something up.

So let me say this about Tuesday’s show—not bad for a couple of rookies.

I’d like to thank everyone who showed up, especially our three guests: current aldermen Proco Joe Moreno and Scott Waguespack and former alderman Richard Mell.

Videographer Peter Holderness was on hand to film the event. And he captured some classic moments, like Waguespack explaining the city’s strip-club law, Mell describing the pain he feels in his ass, and Moreno defending his proposed ban on plastic bags.

That said . . .

I have to admit that I might have let Mell go on a little too long at times, as one of my old pals from Logan Square commented on my Facebook page.

Still, Papa Mell offered some revealing observations about how Chicago politics really works—especially when Mick asked the panel why aldermen are such mayoral rubber stamps.

“Patronage,” Mell proclaimed. It’s certainly not that they agree with all of the stupid shit our mayors come up with.

And with that Mell was off on a long and wild account of how he essentially gave his council vote to the Boss in exchange for the jobs the Boss gave him so that he, in turn, could be the boss of his own little patch of turf.

The verdict on Mell’s oration was most definitely split. One man in the crowd was so sickened that he stood up and told Mell he was full of shit—or words to that effect.

In contrast, Alderman Moreno was so moved by Mell’s recollections that he launched into his own impassioned defense of patronage. You can see that here:

For me the highlight was when Waguespack and Mell teamed up to tell the tale about how Mell “saved” young Waguespack’s career. Well, that was Mell’s spin, anyway.

This was back in 2009, when the council was getting ready to give Mayor Daley a blank check to spend the many hundreds of millions of dollars it would take to stage his Olympics.

There was no doubt the vote would pass. The only issue was whether Waguespack would dare to be the only no vote.

As the big decision drew closer, Mell—who sat next to Waguespack in the council—was whispering in the rookie alderman’s ears things like “Don’t do it. If we don’t get the games, they’ll blame you. It’ll kill your career. I’m tellin’ ya—don’t do it!”

Eventually, Waguespack voted for the games. Not that it mattered in the long run, as the International Olympic Committee awarded the games to Brazil.

One more time—thank you, IOC!

In any event, Mell’s anecdote reminded me of an article I’d recently read in the New York Times about a Russian legislator named Ilya V. Ponomarev, a member of the State Duma, Russia’s parliament.

Ponomarev—who hails from Novosibirsk, the largest city in Siberia—was the lone no in the recent 445-to-one vote supporting President Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

Think of Ponomarev as Russia’s version of Alderman Waguespack, who was, by the way, one of only three aldermen who dared to vote against Mayor Emanuel’s bad idea to fork over $55 million for a Marriott hotel in the South Loop.

I’m happy to report that Ponomarev has not, so far, been punished for his no vote. Though he says several of his Duma colleagues strongly cautioned him against it, telling him “Don’t ruin your career” and “Putin will crush you.”

Which sounds a lot like the advice Mell gave Waguespack way back when. You know, I think Mell would fit in well in Putin’s Duma.

In any event, our next Hideout show is May 6 at 6:30 PM. We have Karen Lewis on the docket. Peace.