Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ryan doesn't get it, next guy probably won't either

Ryan doesn't get it, next guy probably won't either
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
September 7, 2006

Even as George Ryan arrived Wednesday in U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer's courtroom for sentencing, the biggest question in the Dirksen Federal Building wasn't how many years he'd go to prison but "Who's next?" It seems always to be that way. I don't know that our supply of crooked politicians in Illinois is inexhaustible, but let's just say that we have only begun to mine their depths.

Watching Ryan catch a stiff 61/2 year prison sentence is supposed to give us hope that this is the start of a turnaround in our government officials, and I do have hope, but it is tempered by the knowledge that the problem runs deep -- too deep for the federal courts to solve on their own.

"Like a mutating virus" is how Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins described to Pallmeyer this plague of public corruption that has infected our government for far too long.

Federal investigators stop it in one place, and then it pops up over there in a different form. Then they find out they didn't stop it in the first place after all, because the new guys are pulling the same old stuff, so excited to have a turn in charge that they forget about the rule book.

Collins wanted that 61/2-year prison sentence to deter the next guy, but will it? I would have thought everything about how Ryan has been chewed up over the last eight years leading up to Wednesday would have deterred the next guy, but it didn't.

In this context, "next guy" refers to any number of political types on the city, county and state levels awaiting their turn as defendants. Who's next? The answer could come as early as today.

'Sense of entitlement'

Collins tried to put a finger on some of the common characteristics of the corruption virus wherever it appears, singling out the "sense of entitlement" of some public officials.

"It's my money, not the taxpayers money," Collins said they all seem to believe.

To which I might add, they all seem to think that what they're doing is somehow different, or simply that they won't get caught.

There was definitely all of that with Ryan, who not surprisingly still doesn't think he did anything wrong. The first time I wrote that sentence I said that "amazingly" Ryan still doesn't think he did anything wrong, but it came as no surprise at all.

Oh, he had an apology of sorts for Illinois voters.

"When they elected me as the governor of this state, they expected better, and I let them down. For that I apologize," the former governor told Pallmeyer in that same booming voice with which you are familiar.

"The jury's verdict speaks for itself in showing that I simply didn't do enough, should have been more vigilant, should have been more watchful, should have been a lot of things, I guess," he added later.

But that's certainly not taking responsibility for his crimes, which were hardly acts of omission. Ryan didn't just fail to mind the store, he gave the keys to the robbers.

Are our expectations unrealistic?

His attorney, Dan Webb, defended Ryan's approach as a "pretty strong apology."

"I heard him say that he apologized to the people of the state of Illinois because he had failed to live up to their expectations," Webb said.

Are our expectations that unrealistic? I don't think so. Maybe I shouldn't speak for you, but all I'm looking for is their honest services for starters.

After that, we'll aim higher.

It's possible that Ryan couldn't bring himself to apologize more with his appeal hopes still hanging out there, including the possibility that Pallmeyer will allow him to remain free on bond while the appeal is pending, particularly in light of the unusual jury proceedings.

But I think it was more than that. I still think that he fundamentally doesn't get it.

Wednesday's sentencing of Ryan's pal, businessman Larry Warner, should be instructive to all the other next guys out there. It was to Warner that Ryan turned over the goodies in the secretary of state's office, giving him a secret inside track on contracts and leases.

Vote the rascals out

Ryan's sentencing hearing went first, and after it was over, few would have even stuck around to see Warner's sentencing if not for the fact that Ryan had to stay for it as well.

Warner got 41 months, not too bad for a guy who wouldn't cooperate with prosecutors.

There will always be more Larry Warners -- guys on the make who want to fatten their wallets on the back of taxpayers.

At the end of these federal investigations, they are always of no consequence other than as conduits to the politicians with whom they get in bed.

Until the politicians learn that on their own, it's up to the rest of us to do a better job of helping federal prosecutors weed them out, one election at a time.


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