Tribute to George Ryan out of Place on Theater Walkway

Article excerpt

There is always a festive air outside Chicago's Goodman Theatre as ticketholders arrive for "A Christmas Carol."

For some theatergoers, though, the holiday spirit sours just a little as they walk across the faux-gold inlaid stars along the sidewalk in front of the Goodman.

There is one star etched with the name George Ryan.

That is the currently-imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan. The same Ryan whose early release from the Irongate Hotel was denied last week by a federal district judge in Chicago.

The sight of Mr. Ryan's name on the sidewalk draws snarky comments from sometheatergoers and passers-by, who marvel that his star has not been removed or defaced.

Seriously, the guy was convicted almost FIVE years ago in a government corruption case that began with a truck-van crashin which six young children were killed.

The truck driver who caused the fiery accident and explosion bribed one of Ryan's workers to get a license. Some of the bribe money went to Ryan's campaign as part of an organized slush fund. Ryan's hand-picked deputies quashed the investigation. Before it was over, Ryan and more than 75 of his employees, friends and cronies pleaded guilty or were convicted.

Worse yet, the only apology Ryan has ever offered for his conduct or to the children's parents, the Rev. Scott Willis, his wife, Janet, and their surviving siblings, has been during his incessant efforts to get out of prison early.

The tragic crash of the Willis family van and its connection to Ryan's corruption paint a much different legacy for the ex-governor, who once was a respected elected leader, than what his earlier political days may have portended.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer recounted Mr. Ryan's ultimate legacy of corruption in her 59-page ruling denying the ex-governor's early release, even into the arms of his ill wife.

Judge Pallmeyer reminded us that while governor, Ryan received a "stream of benefits" intended to "influence his official action" and that Ryan "accepted those benefits with the intent to be influenced."

The federal jury, she wrote, "must have believed he (Ryan) received a bribe."

That reasoning doesn't seem strong enough for some people to understand why no mercy was shed on Mr. Ryan. Perhaps the judge went back and reread letters she received from the Willis family beforeshe sentenced Ryan in 2006 to the 6 1/2-year prison termhe now is trying to shortcut. …