Interview with Alderman Richard Mell representing Chicago's 33rd Ward at his office at City Hall on July 5, 2013. (Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)

Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd, first elected to represent his Northwest Side ward in 1975, is an unabashed believer in political patronage and charismatic leader of one of the city's most powerful Democratic organizations — an operation he hopes to continue running well after he retires from the City Council on July 24. Mell helped elect mayors, congressmen and a governor — his now-disgraced son-in-law, Rod Blagojevich. In an interview Friday, two days after sending Mayor Rahm Emanuel his retirement letter, Mell, 75, reflected on some of the greatest moments of his storied career as well as some of the saddest. Here are excerpts from that interview.

Q: You are a native of Muskegon, Mich. Did you come to Chicago because of Marge (his wife, Margaret, who died in 2006 of a degenerative brain disease)?

A: Five of us guys drove to Chicago to see the Tigers play the White Sox. July 12, 1962. Well, it was July 10. We saw the Friday night game. We saw the Saturday game. And we were going to see the Sunday game. ... So we walked down Fullerton Avenue to the beach. ... I hear a little girl say, 'Margie, buy me a Popsicle.' I look over and say, 'Oh my God, come here kid, I'll buy you a Popsicle.' That was my wife's little sister. So I made a quick left turn over there toward the lake and started chatting them up. There were four of those girls. They were all gorgeous. And we were BS-ing everything we possibly could, just because we knew we weren't going to be here long. So then I met Margie, and it's like falling of the cliff. ... It was head over heels. It was one of those things that just was just a fait accompli. For me, not for her, by any chance. But I was coming back to Chicago.

Q: In your first election (for alderman), you ran against the candidate endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party, but you weren't really in opposition to the party — right?

A: (Bill) Singer was running against (Mayor Richard J.) Daley. If they had a Singer sign in their room, I was with Singer. OK? If they had a Daley sign, I was with Daley. OK? So, I was a man for all seasons. I didn't care for either one of 'em. I just wanted to get elected.

Q: Politics has totally changed, right?

A: Patronage was a great thing, and I helped a lot of people in that area, when you could do it. ... Today, if I would to go to bat for somebody, it would automatically cost him any chance of getting promoted. ... I was helping people who lived in the community, whose job was to work the precinct, to know their neighbors, to do whatever they could to help their neighbors and obviously to do whatever they could to get a big Democratic vote out. And that was the goal, and we did.

Q: Isn't that what made you strong?

A: Of course, oh naturally, sure. I must have gotten 60, 70 jobs the first year.

Q: How many did you have at your best?

A: A thousand. ... The jobs that I really thought were great ones were the bridge tender jobs. At one time we had three people on every bridge. I put four kids through college as bridge tenders. I would get them on the second shift, from 3 to 11, where they could do their homework. Or 11 to 7, where they'd sleep, and they were getting electrician's pay, and it was great. I helped. We helped a lot of great people who did great jobs for the city. ... This was a time when you could take parking tickets and you could take them and non-suit (dismiss) 'em. Stacks of parking tickets. They would non-suit 'em. It was great. You could make lots of friends.

Q: Why did you back Republican mayoral candidate Bernie Epton against Harold Washington after Washington won the 1983 Democratic primary? Was it more about power and politics than race?

A: I had no idea. No white person could have any idea the love that the African-American community had for that man. I mean it was unbelievable. He was Martin Luther King, Obama, Jesse Owens, everybody wrapped into one. He was unbelievable. But what happened was, his surrogates, like (Ald.) Anna Langford, said, 'We are going to cut them off at their knees. They've had it all. We're taking it all back.' That came permeating, and he never silenced it all. So that gave (then-Ald. Edward) Vrdolyak the opportunity to get all the guys together. ... There was nothing racial about it all. I was born in Muskegon. My next-door neighbors were African-American and, on the other side, were Hispanic. I did not know I was Polish and German until I moved to Chicago. Because there was no need to know there. Here, you have to know who you are right away. You know?

Q: What exactly made you stand on the desk to get temporary Mayor David Orr's attention to get the legislative process started to put Sawyer in? (A moment captured in a photograph from the tumultuous December 1987 City Council meeting that followed Harold Washington's death.)

A: We could not get heard by Orr. He would never call on anybody for us to move a vacancy. To get the procedure going, we had to declare a vacancy. ... We're all trying to get their attention. So I went over to the press. I said, 'I'm going to heat this (expletive) up. Get on me, I'm going to get this guy to recognize me.' So that's when I got up and said, "Can you see me now. Can you see me now.' And I could see (Ald. Ed) Burke walking slowly over to me. And he says, 'Do you know what you're going to look like tomorrow morning in the papers? Do you have any idea?' But that broke ... the logjam.

Q: Would you back your daughter (state Rep. Deb Mell) to replace you?

A: That's her decision, she's going to have to apply if she wants to. I think if I had a choice, and she really wanted it, I certainly would favor her over somebody else. Sure.

Q: She hasn't told you?

A: I think she's still got some mixed emotions, but I think she would like it. I think she would do well.

Q: Much of the ward is Latino. Won't some people view it that way?