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The [Ryan] Papers

In sentencing George Ryan to a relatively light six-and-half-years in prison yesterday, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer called the former governor "a complicated man."

As John Kass writes this morning, "Ryan is as complicated as butt steak and eggs at 4 a.m. after a long night at the casinos . . . "

In fact, George Ryan is the most uncomplicated governor of Illinois in recent history, and one of its most uncomplicated pols of stature of all time.

George Ryan is who he is - an old-school Machine hack who to this day believes there is nothing wrong with using public office to reward friends and campaign contributors. That is a point of view still held by many, including Mayor Richard M. Daley. Federal judges - and the media - don't need to make it any more complicated than that.

It's not as if we didn't know what we were getting with George Ryan as governor. Consider:

"In 1982, the Better Government Association released an investigation of then-Speaker of the Illinois House George Ryan's attempt to use his influence to protect a nursing home facing state charges," the BGA reminds us in its online George Ryan archive. "That action enabled Ryan's Kankakee pharmacy to regain $60,000 in annual business that had previously been lost to that facility.

"Since that time, the BGA repeatedly investigated Ryan's fundraising practices as Secretary of State throughout the 1990's. The BGA reported on the massive amount of campaign dollars Ryan raised from entities he regulated. In addition, the BGA and its media partners revealed the inappropriate pressure brought by Ryan on his employees to raise money for his campaign."

The only thing complicated about Ryan is why anyone would think he's complicated.


But then, the pathetic George Ryan saga is a bit complicated for the press. The Tribune today published a brilliantly composed editorial - the Sun-Times editorial board should take notes and learn how it's done - titled "George Ryan, In Denial," for example.

The paper's stance was very different in 1998, when it endorsed Ryan for governor.

"Ryan's experience and record offer confidence he will be an effective governor," the paper said. "In 25 years of public service as a legislator, speaker of the House, lieutenant governor and secretary of state, he has earned enthusiastic, bipartisan praise for his great capacity to work with people and get things accomplished."

This despite, as the BGA points out, evidence of Ryan's dark political character dating back at least to 1982.

The Tribune did not ignore allegations of the licenses-for-bribes scandal already swirling at the time. It just brushed them aside - again, despite what we already knew about the candidate.

"Our enthusiasm for Ryan is tempered by a couple of factors," the paper allowed. "One is the ongoing scandal of alleged sales of truck-driving licenses in the secretary of state's office that has led to federal charges against two current and one former employee. In his defense, it should be noted that they weren't George Ryan hires - the two employees joined the office long before Ryan did, and the third person had retired before Ryan came on board. But it is deeply troubling that Ryan's own investigators failed to ferret out the scandal and that bribe money allegedly wound up in Ryan's campaign."

Not troubling enough, though, to stand in the way of an endorsement. The Tribune editorial page finds it easy to ask citizens to show their outrage over corruption while tolerating it itself when convenient.

The paper concluded: "George Ryan is a known and tested commodity. He's the best choice to lead Illinois."

That's not to say the Tribune should have endorsed a candidate it did not like - Glenn Poshard, the Democrat. The paper could have expressed its outrage and skipped an endorsement. Or, it could have endorsed Poshard under the principle that cleaning up Illinois's criminal political culture is a higher priority at this juncture than even policy positions (of which Ryan had virtually none) and ideological litmus tests. After all, that's the principle the Tribune will invoke when it endorses Tony Peraica for Cook County board president.


The Sun-Times isn't off the hook, either. Here's what its editorial board had to say in its endorsement of Ryan for governor.

"Republican Ryan cannot credibly be blamed for six kids being killed in a freak traffic accident.

"With his gruff, blunt, grandfatherly, cigar-smoking style, Ryan, 64, has earned a reputation as a pragmatist, a conciliator, the kind of guy who gets things done. He is an effective political leader, and effectiveness in government is something we can use more of."

Sometimes you wonder if editorial boards read their own papers. It gets worse.

"Ryan, while accepting responsibility for what goes on in his offices, denies any knowledge of or tolerance for any bribery or other unlawful activity," the paper continued. "No evidence has been presented against him. There is no proof of the allegations about the truck driver. And the U.S. attorney's office says Ryan is not a target of its investigation.

"Nonetheless, Poshard and other Democrats have accused Ryan personally of turning a blind eye to widespread corruption. In a scurrilously defamatory - even by Chicago political standards - TV ad, Poshard also unsubtly implied that Ryan was personally to blame for those six kids' deaths. Ryan was rightly outraged, as were we. We also believe Ryan in his assertions of innocence in the alleged corruption of some of his employees.

"He gets our vote and our confidence that he will make a good governor."


Perhaps each editorial board ought to offer the apology they so wanted to see from Ryan - an apology that those of us who understand that Ryan is a simple man knew would never come.


Not a sincere one, anyway. John Kass scores one of the all-time great political nuggets in the annals of Illinois sleaze in his column today.

"Judge Pallmeyer must believe in the potential goodness of all people.

"But she didn't hear Ryan laughing the washroom after she imposed her light sentence, Ryan joking with his buddy Big Jim.

"'Wonder what [defense lawyer Dan] Webb is going to say to the media,' Ryan said, chuckling, spry enough in his allegedly weakened and infirm state that he bent quickly, like a portly gymnast in hard shoes, to see if anyone was hiding in a stall.

"A young reporter who was dressed in a nice suit - and so didn't look like a young reporter but more like an attorney - wanted to use the facilities.

"'Got a ticket?' wisecracked Ryan, smiling, hearty, apparently crushed by the tough sentence he might not ever serve.

"A few minutes earlier, though, he was seeking mercy, speechifying, oozing contrition without ever offering a real apology, just like a politician."


We know who Richard M. Daley is, too. He hasn't been engulfed by corruption and scandal in just the last two years, as recent press reports indicate. His 17 years in office as mayor have been engulfed in corruption and scandal. Corruption and scandal have been part and parcel of this mayor's tenure; he tolerates it because he, like Ryan, believes in it. Daley is a slightly more complicated man than Ryan, but not so complicated that we should be confused about who he is and what he's about. Daley's flowers are Ryan's Death Row prisoners. It's not important what they really believe in, only what they hope to gain by said beliefs.


The political pundits like to say that the license-for-bribes scandal stands out among Illinois scandals because it comes with a death toll.

Is Daley's administration really dissimilar? When politics takes precedence over policy, more than 700 people die in a heat wave.

When patronage is at the heart of an administration, people's lives are endangered.

In 2003, 13 people died in the collapse of a Lincoln Park porch that wasn't properly inspected by the city's buildings department.

"After that tragedy and another unrelated porch failure that led to the death of a 9-year-old girl, the Daley administration did something quite astonishing," Kass wrote last spring. "Two young sons of two high-ranking union officials were hired as $50,000-a-year building inspectors, only after their applications were embellished and revised at City Hall to make up for their woeful lack of experience. One inspector was 19 and the other was 23."

It's not complicated.


Posted on September 7, 2006

MUSIC - Millions Of New Guitar Players.
TV - "One America News" is AT&T.
POLITICS - When Wall Street Came To My Mobile Home Park.
SPORTS - Skytober.

BOOKS - China Holding Swedish Publisher.


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