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Can a corrupt man still be a good man?

Wednesday, Apr 19, 2006

Everybody has been slamming George Ryan this week, but Kristen McQueary has another take.

It wasn’t greed or naivete or ego that brought down George Ryan.

In many ways, it was heart.

The expected reaction to the guilty verdicts is triumph. Ryan victimized “we the people.” We’re supposed to clink our glasses and feel deeply satisfied.

Why don’t I?

To me, the case is not that tidy. There was no Colonel Mustard with the revolver in the dining room. Prosecutors laced together a corruption case against Ryan that spanned many years, hundreds of conversations and a thousand interpretations. Those who testified against Ryan faced a perilous fate from the federal government, had they refused.

Even the simplest synopsis of the case raises questions in my mind: Can a corrupt man still be a good man?

This was not an elitist who flaunted wealth. He was a grandpa from Kankakee with a pudgy wife. The spoils often referenced — corporate jets, premier sports tickets, Jamaican vacations, steak dinners — don’t strike me as ostentatious. He was the governor of a major state. Your average state lawmaker is privy to the same recompense, and congressmen, more.

One of the personal checks shown to jurors as part of the “spoils” was a $1,000 boost for his daughter. One of his kids apparently married a bum who liked to gamble, and so Ryan helped them when he could. What father wouldn’t?

Ryan’s co-defendant, Larry Warner, insisted on paying for the band at Ryan’s daughter’s wedding. There were vacations among friends in Jamaica.

Think of your own life and the people with whom you would surround yourself if elected governor: I’d sure like my best friend from high school, now an attorney, to provide trusted counsel. What if she owned a timeshare in Mexico? Would I have to pay her for my room-and-board? It seems a bit absurd.

Read the whole thing.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

23 Comments
  1. - Tweed - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 8:37 am:

    For starters, Kristen will probably get a fair amount of attention because of the view she is taking. It sounds absurd at first, but I suppose she has some halfway decent points in there. Part of the job of a columnist is to occasionally provide the view no one else is thinking and to get readers to respond to your article. I think that this is one of those articles and she dug deep to have this reaction. One thing is for sure though, it worked and I will remember her next time I’m reading the Daily Southtown.

    Tweed


  2. - Little Egypt - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 8:51 am:

    Let’s correct one thing Kristen says. Lura Lynn Ryan is not pudgy in my opinion. She may be 15 pounds or so overweight. She is of very short stature and small frame and has for crying out loud had 4 births, one of which resulted in carrying 3 little darlings in very cramped housing conditions for 9 months. Let’s lay off the former First Lady of Illinois and keep our comments to her husband. And yes, I’ve been up close and personal with her. For many years she and I went to the same hair salon.


  3. - Klaus - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 8:58 am:

    Kristen McQueary, whom I’m sure is a nice person, knows only what
    she’s seen of George Ryan in the last few years. Also, her story also highlights the problem with the media in this state. Their reaction of, “Oh, it’s just politics,” is the reason why things like this continue to go on.

    Look at the Jack Abramoff scandal in Washington. There are a lot of
    parallels here, especially with foreign travel. Does the DC press
    corps ignore it and say, oh, it was just a trip to St. Andrew’s for golf? No, they report it because it is ILLEGAL. If George Ryan didn’t do anything wrong, he wouldn’t have been found GUILTY on all 22 counts, running the gamut from racketeering to tax fraud.

    Too bad you weren’t around ten years ago as a reporter. Then you
    would have seen what the real George Ryan was like. You could sit at Magnum’s or Lido’s on any given day and seen what you thought didn’t happen, according to your story. The government made its case, obviously you weren’t paying attention.

    By the way, does the Southtown have an ethics policy for its
    reporters, like the Tribune? What would happen if you were to violate it? Would you still have a job? What would happen if you took time in your friend’s time share in Mexico in exchange for a positive story on them or their business. Would that be acceptable?

    It’s a shame that this had to happen. It’s a result of having lax ethics laws in this state, coupled with a press corps that turns a blind eye to corruption. I hope things improve.


  4. - Anon - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 9:04 am:

    I worked in the Illinois political atmosphere for 20 years and Kristen hit the nail on the head. Trust me when I say — what Ryan did is done every day without even a second thought. Having the power to help family & friends (and the sweet pension) is the main reason anyone even wants to hold office. It is a thankless job….


  5. - Pat C (not a gov emplyee) - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 9:19 am:

    Here is what she really meant to say:

    “I don’t want to think he did the death penalty thing just to try to get off/get a lighter sentence”.

    You know, I really don’t much care for the “there is so much money flaoting around here, so it’s ok if some sticks to me” attitude that her article is full of.

    But it once again proves that a strictly limited gov is a cleaner Gov., since no one will pay bribes when government has no candy to dole out.


  6. - grand old partisan - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 9:19 am:

    Most of the people I’ve talked to – Democrats and Republicans – agree that seeing Ryan go to prison might satisfy some generic gratification, it probably just isn’t justified. Many – myself included – won’t be shedding too many tears for Ryan if he does spend some time at Club Fed, but would probably feel that justice has been served even if all they do is strip him of his pension(s).

    Of course, it will be unsurprisingly rare to hear such lenience from either side of the aisle: Republicans are afraid of appearing dismissive of Ryan’s crimes and risk further indemnifying their party with a reputation of tolerance for corruption; and Democrats don’t want to give up what they (correctly or incorrectly) feel will be their ace in the whole this November.

    Deep down I think we all know that Ryan probably deserves whatever punishment he receives, but that there is also a certain amount of scapegoating going on here.


  7. - Pat Hickey - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 9:53 am:

    Kristen McQueary seems to be the only strong voice offering a reasoned opinion. That is why the The Daily Southtown is a respectable paper. Phil Kadner’s voice is hardly sympathetic to George Ryan but it rings true and honest. Great job Daily Southtown and kudos to Kristen - finally, someone got it right.


  8. - Illinois Deserves Better - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 10:00 am:

    Many believe he is a good-hearted family man who took liberties only to take care of family and friends. Obviously, the problem is that he was elected to bear the responsibility and trust of the public, not just those in his immediate circle. It was this trust that was betrayed. Yes, a good man can have human failings, but he must bear responsibility for those failings.

    I think it took a change in administration for many in the Republican party to wake up from this acceptance of cronyism and corruption. Now,when the same types of activities happen with the current administration, it’s the Republicans who seem the most outraged. The truth is that it was wrong then and it’s wrong now. And there’s been a lot of questionable things happening Illinois in the last three years, things that have already result in some arrests and convictions, with more to come in the coming months.

    I hope that eventually Illinois voters get a chance to select a person of integrety to lead the state. I’m just not sure that this is that year.


  9. - Lovie's Leather - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 10:01 am:

    Right or wrong, I feel sympathy for George Ryan. He was convicted and should go to jail unless the appelate court overturns the decision. I believe he is a very pompous man who made backdoor deals… but welcome to politics. I agree with McQueary in the sense that, if I was governor, I would try to help people I knew who needed my help. It is called patronage, and I agree with Big Jim when he says that it should not be illegal. I feel I would have a moral obligation to use power to benefit people I know. Not to purposely leave out anyone who I may not know. But seeing the problems people close to me have, I would throw them a bone. Wouldn’t they do the same for me. I also feel sympathy because I am a Republican, a Republican from the Edgar, Thompson, Ryan, Topinka wing of the party. They know how things work and are able to get the job done. Maybe I am wrong, but things were good under the Thompson and Edgar administrations… and that is what I look at…. and I expect a lot of criticizm for believing that….


  10. - ZC - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 11:45 am:

    I cannot wait to read the professional biography of George Ryan’s career. He was a cheat, a crook, a liar, and he covered up the death of six children who died indirectly because of corruption that Ryan encouraged in his office.

    He was also, as McQueary helps point out, a masterful politician, a caring family man, and a deal-maker who gave Illinois pretty good four years of governorship (as long as you didn’t look too closely). From my few talks with Springfield insiders, I have met Democrats who positively revere the man. The newspapers endorsed him in 1998 because, among other reasons, they all sensed his political skills and his potential for greatness.

    Ryan always seems to have put people above politics and / or “issues.” That was near the root of his evil, but it also made him something of a breath of fresh air in an era too full of shrill ideologues who march only to their own single-issue banner. He was always willing to compromise and to cut deals. When he said in his 1998 ads that he could try and bring Democrats and Republicans together, he actually meant it and (to an extent) he delivered. Not many pols can pull off that trick in this polarized age.

    But then, as you note Rich, came the Willis children. How moral we are is (in part) a reflection of how lucky we are, in terms of the temptations and / or challenges that we are or are not confronted with. Ryan’s great test didn’t have to happen - we shouldn’t absolve that truck driver either - but it did, and then he failed it. Big time. And some things should be unforgiveable.


  11. - Pat C (not a gov emplyee) - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 12:29 pm:

    a deal-maker who gave Illinois pretty good four years of governorship

    If you dont’ notice that a lot of “Build IL” (or was it “IL first”?) was pure pork. IL 31 from IL 71 to huntley road got ripped up and repaved. It didn’t need it.

    But they wanted to spend some money there, and they didnt’ have enough to do something really useful.

    Am I the ONLY one who remembers it’s TAXPAYERS money he’s “being nice with”?

    There is a mom who is working instead of staying home with her kids whopays for that. An older couple whocuts back. Etc etc.

    You don’t see them, so you don’t “feel their pain”. But they exist. And they are the ones victimized while GR helps his buds and those he sees.


  12. - Gregor - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 1:43 pm:

    What a load of tripe that essay was; “oh, he’s cuddly little teddy-bear of a grandpa, not a ‘real’ criminal”.

    And to the question; no, I don’t think you can be a good person and corrupt, in the way he was.

    You can be a good person and a criminal if you stole bread to feed your starving child when there was no other way, and you made restitution later. Or if the State arbitrarily made you a criminal by some fiat or outright political opression.

    You cannot be considered a good person and a criminal if the situation is you knew the rules, swore an OATH on a bible before God and a Supreme Court Judge to uphold them, had the ability to choose, and had no need to break them, and you broke them anyway for your personal pleasure, desire, or to increase your power and influence. You’re just a criminal.

    Like Shakespeare wrote; “one may smile and smile, and yet be a villian”. Most of the outfit guys in Chicago, men who have murdered or ordered murders, run prostitution and drugs, extorted money from the innocent, look like kindly old grandpas and uncles in their mug shots, and I’m sure their close family and friends consider them to be kindly old men.

    This guy is NOT a good man. He’s a convicted cheater, thief and liar who violated the public trust, who put his own comforts and desires above the good of the people who elected him, he took away their rights by secretly circumventing their will in hundreds of little and big ways. We may never know how many good and true things were subverted to his personal avarice over the years. We can only work from what the prosecutors presented. It was enough for most of us to agree, the kindly old teddy bear was nothing more than a petty crook, one of many that have stolen our government out from under it’s people.

    Do NOT excuse it, do NOT belittle it, do NOT condone it. FIGHT to have your own government and to keep your rights. It was bought with blood, and it’s sin to give it away so cheaply.


  13. - Conservative Republican - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 2:23 pm:

    It seems that by allowing this blog, Rich Miller has given space for comment by loads of people who really don’t know any of the pertinent facts.

    I have known George Ryan for 24 years. He was a pal to his pals. If you weren’t a pal, look out… He actively, personally tried to ruin the lives and careers of many perceived “enemies”. He was even mean to some of his “pals”, i.e., Manny Hoffman circa 1997 (it is still not widely known why Hoffman resigned and why he angered Ryan then.) If you weren’t a “pal” or someone who could help him (i.e. Carol Marin, other media, etc.) he was, in the words of one who experienced it, a “mean, old, nasty man”. His sour, mean, and vindictive personality was a feature of the man that the media kindly overlooked for many years and in many instances. McQuery is clueless about the man.


  14. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 5:36 pm:

    Maybe I’m clueless about the man also, and perhaps many of you know him better than I do. But, I’ve tried to add it up and I think I was with him more than a thousand times in the four years I worked for George Ryan; good times, bad times, issues involving billions of dollars, policy issues affecting the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of people, times when he was at ease, times when he was under tremendous pressure.

    I never saw a pompous man, I saw a humble man. I didn’t see a cruel man, or an indifferent one. He was thoughtful and considerate of the people who worked for him, as he was to strangers he encountered during the day.

    I saw a loving husband, part of a loving couple. I saw a father who loved his children and grandchildren. I saw a man who went out of his way to be courteous and helpful to complete strangers.

    In those four years I saw no evil actions on George Ryan’s part, no mean-spiritedness. I didn’t see corruption. I didn’t see improprieties. Perhaps I was just oblivious, but remember, I worked 18 years for Jim Edgar, and so I was used to a pretty high bar: I was no neophyte just off the turnip truck.

    Of course he had shortcomings, everyone does. Hw would lose his temper sometimes, including at me, but within 30 minutes he was trying to make sure you knew he cared about you and thought highly of you.

    Maybe I just missed it, but my experience, which was intense during those four years, is that he is one of the most decent and finest people I ever met in my life, and what has happened is a tragedy in the classical Greek sense. I can make no sense of it.


  15. - Criminal Enterprise Called Illinois - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 8:20 pm:

    Come on Steve…the columnist is right on, but you are not. I agree that George Ryan did no differently than any other Illinois politician and you know it too. He just got caught. Please quit trying to paint Jim Edgar as a saint. A higher bar…right. That makes me sick…what a slick package he made. You know most of us on these blogs know better. Can you say MSI? The same goes for the others on both sides of the aisle. George should sing like a bird. Why should he pay when virtually no one else has?Or was his silence part of the quid pro quo for a free legal defense? That’s suspect in itself! Hey, bloggers…am I the only one who wonders just why Big Jim and others want to defend him so badly? The future will be very interesting. Go Fitzgerald Go!


  16. - Gregor - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 8:58 pm:

    “In those four years I saw no evil actions on George Ryan’s part, no mean-spiritedness. I didn’t see corruption. I didn’t see improprieties.”

    –Glaucoma?


  17. - Quizzical - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 9:51 pm:

    I had a brief chance to meet George Ryan, but he really was a nice man to me. Lura Lynn was there too and their bond was impressive. They didn’t have to be nice, but they were, and not everybody in Springfield or the larger world makes that choice.

    To me, George was a man overtaken by his weaknesses rather than a sociopath. That limits his culpability in my book. I’m not so sure about his successor.

    That said, a jury that heard much more evidence than any of us ever will determined that he was guilty. Ironically, giving him a significant sentence will do more to deter the weak people than the sociopaths.

    There really are elements of Greek Tragedy to this story.


  18. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 10:05 pm:

    Kristen’s column is one of the best so far. And Rich’s take in the Fax was as eloquent, knowledgeable and heartfelt as hers. Hickey and Schnorf get it too. I’m no apologist for Ryan, but I share a grudging admiration for the man.

    I didn’t know him personally, but I grew up in Kankakee County, and worked on my first legislative race there in 1982, for a Democratic candidate who won in a Republican County in the first post-cutback election. So I worked against then-Illinois House Speaker George Ryan and his mentor, Ed McBroom. Almost since then I’ve worked professionally in Illinois politics, including government offices, public affairs and political campaigns for nearly every political office in Illinois, and at every level. And it’s always been against Ryan and/or his party, so I don’t feel too sorry for him.

    Having said that, I think Kristen got it mostly right. My experience was that Ryan displayed too much of a sense of entitlement to the “perqs” of office, and he could be very arrogant about it.

    I don’t think the rules changed on him. I think what changed was the rules were finally enforced, which for me is welcome. I’m not nostalgic for the good old days.

    George Ryan wasn’t all bad, and he isn’t even the worst. But he was bad enough.


  19. - aidanquinn - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 10:54 pm:

    The money, trips, and gifts are the problem. Those items influence corrupt politicians.

    A politician’s real allegiance should be to those who work for them, share in their beliefs, and those who he/she represents. Those who will campaign for them and promote their platform. Those who will donate $10 or $20 for a fried chicken dinner and be treated as if they donated $1000 or sent the politician to Florida for vacation.

    There is nothing wrong with a politician appointing his “true” supporters, based on beliefs not money, hiring folks because they align with their principles and not because of how much money they donated.

    It takes money to win an election but one should not automatically benefit from donating to a cause. Most major donations are made with that expectation. The benefit should be the election of a candidate who promotes your or your organizations beliefs.

    Glenn Poshard was fed up with the expectations after receiving a donation. So he set stringent limitations on donations. His principles cost him an election, but he still has his principles, is not headed for jail, and can live within himself.


  20. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Apr 19, 06 @ 11:17 pm:

    You all can say what you want, but I at least sign my name to what I say. I would have a lot more respect for those of you who have so much insight if you would sign your names to at least give us an idea of how you get all your insight.


  21. - ZC - Thursday, Apr 20, 06 @ 12:26 am:

    Steve, for what it’s worth, everyone I have spoken to who had personal knowledge of the man has told me the same kind of story. I knew a lifelong Democrat who went to George Ryan trying to lobby him on College Illinois, and came away amazed by how polite and genial Ryan was and how knowledgeable he was about the program and how supportive he was. Old school. As to why he did the other things he did - no idea, but somebody good better research and write that book. It could be one for the ages. I think the Greek tragedy references made here might be accurate.


  22. - Beowulf - Thursday, Apr 20, 06 @ 6:32 am:

    On the surface, Kristen had some valid points. But, as a taxpayer my rebuttal would be:

    1) George Ryan was where “the buck stops here”. He set the tone for all other political officials and so he is rightly held to a higher standard.He wasn’t a middle management paper shuffler.
    2) Based on what took place while he held office, he had to be dumber than a box of rocks or a crook . Neither option is one that I would want others to view me as.
    3) The public realizes that what the FBI and Justice Department were able to use as part of their case against Ryan and Warner probably represents about 5% of the total crap that they uncovered on Ryan & Larry Warner. Ryan wasn’t just a crook, he was a smart crook who knew how to work around the legal system to enrich his family and friends.
    4) Are there degrees of guilt? You bet! But the head executive of Illinois is expected to be a pale shade of white, not a dingy shade of gray. That is what this whole case has been about. It is not about someone being “just a little bit pregnant”.
    5) Now the taxpayers of Illinois can hope that the federal authorities (Patrick Fitzgerald)can go after the cronies and business associates of George Ryan that exploited the Illinois taxpayers while he was in office. There were attorneys and others that enabled this wrongdoing to take place and they should be made accountable for “their” actions or lack of actions. When the Feds start laying huge fines and/or jail time on these people that enabled this era of corruption to take place, then you will “get the ethically challenged’s attention and respect.”
    6) One word sums it all up-Accountability.


  23. - Beowulf - Thursday, Apr 20, 06 @ 7:00 am:

    Kristen is asking can a corrupt man have “some” redeeming qualities. Of course he can.
    Alphonse Capone used to give money to the soup kitchens during the Depression.
    The pedophile priests have served a worthwhile purpose by giving comfort to their parishoners when they needed it.
    A case could be made that Hitler did the world a favor by aiding in population control. One could look in every crack and crevice in a man’s life and find some small measure of good.

    Kristen needs to visualize the “scale” that Lady Justice is holding as she stands there blindfolded. Does the preponderance of Ryan’s “positive” actions during his life offset the “negative” actions? Do his actions regarding the death penalty make up for his setting a tone of corruption within the state of Illinois?
    Does every innocent man that was freed from death row offset those guilty men that were not made accountable for their heinous crimes? What about the guilty men that were freed that will now be able to prey upon other victims in our society?


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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