George Ryan was convicted on all counts, and a lot of people are happy about it. One older gent at Caribou Monday afternoon did a little dance for joy when he heard the news. A crooked politician finally gets his just desserts.
If Ryan broke the law, he deserves what’s coming to him. But he deserves a few words of praise first. For all his apparent ethical lapses in public life, Gov. George Ryan also took a very courageous, principled stand on the death penalty. Most Republicans?#34;including, I strongly suspect, Jim “Mr. Clean” Edgar, Ryan’s highly respected predecessor?#34;would have simply blown off the critics back in the mid-’90s, in spite of overwhelming DNA evidence proving that innocent people, sitting on Death Row for years, had been wrongfully convicted, and that some innocent people no doubt had already been executed.
Ryan would have paid no political price whatsoever for ignoring those calls for justice. Instead, he declared a death penalty moratorium because it was the right thing to do. That doesn’t happen very often in political life?#34;doing the right thing, that is, unless it tests well in focus groups. Neither was Ryan afraid to go against party inclinations in calling for the federal government to open trade with Cuba. He even led a delegation down to Castroland to set an example.
And when he promised to “fix the Hillside strangler” (the infamous Ike Expressway logjam making life miserable for commuters), I figured it was just an election-year stunt, a promise easily fudged or forgotten once he became governor. But Ryan surprised me by following through. The result wasn’t completely successful, but it is a marked improvement, and he got major points in my book for actually trying?#34;unlike his predecessor, Edgar, who left office after eight years better rested than he went in. Edgar remains popular and respected while Ryan is vilified, but Ryan was the one who actually tried to do a few things during his time in office.
One of the things he did was allocate $1 million to the Hemingway Foundation to finish renovating the Birth Home. Oak Park has never seen anything near that level of state funding for a worthy cause, and preserving the Hemingway legacy will have long-range economic benefits in the future. Without that funding, the foundation would still be limping along, underfunded and underappreciated.
I’m not losing any sleep over Ryan’s conviction. He clearly presided over an ethically-impaired administration. He earned the consequences. But in our one-sided, morally selective political culture, when someone suffers a fall, we find it hard to maintain a balanced view of the person’s legacy. Ryan’s will always be tarnished, but that doesn’t mean I can’t applaud certain notable items on the plus side of his ledger.
Did you miss my column March 8? It didn’t appear in its usual Viewpoints slot that week. More than likely you didn’t notice, or if you did, shrugged it off.
That was the first week a column of mine has not appeared in an edition of Wednesday Journal since September of 1992. Not all of the columns were new. Occasionally I ran reprints, but I always chose them carefully, revised them significantly, and the vast majority had never appeared in the Journal before, so they were, in effect, new columns for the readers. It was a point of pride never to miss a week.
By my rough count, that’s 700 consecutive weeks. And it was even longer because I never missed a week as editor of the Forest Park Review for two years before that.
The problem with having an ironman streak is it doesn’t mean anything to people if no one knows about it. At least no one knew about it here at the paper. They needed space in Viewpoints that week for election letters, and I was out of the country, and my column was a reprint, so they axed it.
It was an honest mistake, but I’ve learned my lesson.
My new streak is now 6 … and counting.