In the last stop on his Chicago City Council farewell tour, recently retired 33rd Ward Ald. Dick Mell on Wednesday imparted the same advice a political veteran gave him after Mell took office in 1975.
As with many things at City Hall, it involved secrecy and the ever-watchful eye of the federal criminal justice system that sent dozens of politicians, including many aldermen and Mell's son-in-law, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, to prison during Mell's 38-year tenure.
The lesson was delivered by former state Rep. Joseph Fanta and, according to Mell, it went like this: "Remember, three people can keep a secret — as long as two are dead. ... Listen, when you're on the telephone, just remember the FBI is on the other line."
The "secret" portion of that line is a paraphrase of a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, while the rest of it is vintage Chicago political wisdom. It also drew the biggest laugh during Mell's farewell speech.
Mell is known for his sense of humor along with the Northwest Side political organization he commanded, as well as standing on his desk during the heated late-night debate over how to pick a new mayor after the unexpected death of Harold Washington.
It probably won't be the last word the public hears from the 75-year-old, old-school politician, however. He engineered the appointment of his daughter former state Rep. Deb Mell to his 33rd Ward council seat in July. Ex-Ald. Mell plans to become a lobbyist and maintain his position as Democratic ward committeeman.