Thursday, April 20, 2006

Don't overthink George Ryan

I don't understand the angst by some commentators over the George Ryan verdict.

Daily Southown's Kristen McQueary, in a well-written column, struggles with the notion that a person who has some good qualities and is corrupt shouldn't be judged so harshly. And she suggests the rules changed on George.

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

Southtown columnist Phil Kadner suggests all politicians are inflicted with at least low-level corruption and the real scorn should be reserved for those who don't fund schools adequately.

You know they're still debating whether to adopt ethics legislation in the cesspool that is our state capital.

The Beachwood Reporter's Steve Rhodes tries the separate the corrupt George Ryan from the good George Ryan who cleared Death Row.

Why is it so hard to fathom that a man could believe that a broken system that may be responsible for putting innocent people to death should end and also believe that there is nothing wrong with using public office to enrich your friends and grease the wheels of government? And that one has nothing to do with the other?

As someone who has been in government and watched things from the inside, I say all three are mostly wrong.

What Kristen is missing is that a public official is held to a higher standard and if they don't understand that, they better not get into public service. When a leader of a public office is confronted with corruption in his or her office, they have two choices: stamp it out or hide it. Every public office I've worked in has had such crossroads moments, and every time, the leader stamped it out. The signal was sent.

George Ryan sent the opposite signal and instead of dying, corruption flourished.

Jim Edgar fired Bob Hickman when he screwed up. George Ryan covered up when it happened on his watch.

One of the biggest red flags to the news media about Rod Blagojevich should have been his inaction regarding Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly. Both are clearly in the sights of the federal prosecutors and their names show up in story after story about corruption in the Blagojevich administration. Yet Rod says he stands by them 100 percent. Signal sent. Corruption is tolerated.

Rhodes is wrong about George and the moratorium. Anyone who was watching that issue closely knows that George's actions were at least 95 percent motivated by his own political survival. The moratorium was announced on a weekend sandwiched in between the announcement that George's inspector general was going to be indicted and the indictment itself. Both were blockbuster stories that clearly marked the tipping point of his political viability. Every TV station played it as "wag the dog." That's what it was.

His insincerity on the issue became evident when he didn't do the hard work to look at the Death Row cases one-by-one and just commuted them all.

The system needed reforms and was getting reforms. George Ryan was not hell-bent on reform — he was desperate to save his political skin so he could steal some more. Pandering to the Chicago Tribune and national media was his last card to play.

George Ryan was a corrupt public official and a deep embarrassment to decent citizens of Illinois. Why is that so hard to say?

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