[Dick Mell interview]

Interview with Chicago Alderman Dick Mell.

00:16Copy video clip URL The video and audio begin, with Dick Mell discussing his recent fishing trip on Lake Michigan.

01:00Copy video clip URL The interviewer tells Mell, an alderman, that the occasion of their interview is the 20th anniversary of Harold Washington’s death. Mell mentions that he often ponders what Chicago would be like had Washington not died when he did and had continued on as mayor.

01:45Copy video clip URL Mell says that Washington as a person was somewhat different from the politician. He was affable, Mell says, but was a rigid politician. “He liked to win,” Mell notes.

02:40Copy video clip URL Mell shares some details of the relationship between the town council and the mayor during Washington’s mayorship. He then moves to a discussion of Washington’s priorities as mayor.

03:35Copy video clip URL Mell reflects on how Washington came to hold the role of mayor, and the attitudes towards him during that run. He especially stresses the extraordinary turnout that the election had in that year.

06:55Copy video clip URL “It was a fear of the unknown,” Mell says, noting that a lot of people were actually worried of the changes that Harold Washington might bring if he were elected mayor of Chicago. He also attributes a lot of influence to race in deciding the election.

09:15Copy video clip URL Mell notes that he sees animosity on racial lines as decreasing in recent years, saying that most people are instead focusing on more racially independent issues.

12:00Copy video clip URL Mell shares an anecdote about how Washington “played the game,” and how he oftentimes won. He notes that by winning the mayoral race, Washington gained access to a “bigger stick” than anyone else.

13:20Copy video clip URL Mell shares a story to illustrate how effective Washington’s charisma was.

14:45Copy video clip URL The discussion turns to the overall mood of the time, especially how this period affected the divisions in Chicago.

19:20Copy video clip URL It was after the second election, Mell says, that things became less of a black and white division on party lines. He then notes that it’s unclear what would have happened if Washington had not met his untimely death.

20:55Copy video clip URL Washington’s strengths were his personality and intelligence, while his weakness was his inability to listen to certain sects of his supporters.

22:45Copy video clip URL Reflecting on the period, Mell says that it was a great time to be a reporter; all that a journalist had to do was spend some time down at city hall, and they’d get a good story.

23:45Copy video clip URL Mell also notes that, in hindsight, perhaps Washington should not have alienated so many members of the ‘old guard’ of Chicago politics. However, he notes that doing so may have angered his base.

25:00Copy video clip URL “There was a lot of grumbling,” Mell says, noting next that this discontent never spilled it into the open. He shares an anecdote to illustrate how Washington cracked down on supporters that spoke up against him.

25:55Copy video clip URL Mell examines the “depth of the African-American love for” Mayor Washington. He shares his memory of the procession to Washington’s funeral, and how many people it brought out. “He was the epitome of hope in that community,” Mell says about Washington and the Black community.

27:15Copy video clip URL Mell shares how a colleague of his had joked with Mayor Washington about the two going on a diet, seeing as Washington had gained some 60 pounds in recent months. He shares this in the context of Washington’s death, and whether it was a surprise to him. Mell then shares the story of his own heart problems, and how it was exactly the same artery which killed Mayor Washington.

29:45Copy video clip URL Mell then reflects on what came after Washington’s death, and the power vacuum that resulted. He says that Sawyer eventually replaced him due to his familiarity with the people already in power. Mell notes that Sawyer was reluctant to take the job

33:03Copy video clip URL Tape ends.

 

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