Despite Ruling, Patronage Still Lives Political Allies, Friends of Ryan Find Jobs, Contracts Are Plentiful

Article excerpt

Byline: Laura Janota and Madeleine Doubek Daily Herald Staff Writers

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CORRECTION/date 10-09-1998: A front page graphic in some editions incorrectly reported that Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins has a job in the Secretary of State's office. She does not. As the accompanying story indicated, Mullins' husband, John, is employed by the office as a motor vehicle regulation technician II at a salary of $33,360. The Daily Herald regrets the error.

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First of two parts

Patronage was banned by a landmark court ruling eight years ago, but a Daily Herald analysis of hiring practices in the secretary of state's office suggests it is far from dead.

As Illinois secretary of state since 1990, Republican George Ryan has provided work to more than 40 politically connected people in the suburbs and Chicago, the analysis shows.

And while the study focused on only a slice of Illinois and includes only those that could be confirmed, Ryan acknowledged he follows the hiring practice throughout the state.

In fact, in an interview Wednesday, he estimated that it could apply to as many as 10 percent of the people employed by his office. Since Ryan became secretary of state, his office has filled 1,320 jobs. In all, the office has 3,613 full-time jobs.

In defending the system, he said he would continue the practice as governor if he's elected in November.

He described it as a normal course of business, the same kind of networking that takes place in private industry.

"They killed patronage," Ryan said. "Put a stake in its heart."

But Mary Lee Leahy, an attorney who sued and won the landmark court case on the issue, said it may be patronage that is more subtle, but it's still patronage.

And to that extent, she added, while the practices Ryan follows may say something about how he governs, they also reflect the way Illinois state government operates altogether.

In fact, voters may have no reason to believe Democratic governor nominee Glenn Poshard would operate differently. At least nine of the 20 people on his congressional payroll also work as precinct committeemen or hold other political posts.

"I'm discouraged," Leahy said. "The ruling has had a great effect in most other parts of the country. But not in Illinois."

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An examination of workers and no-bid contract holders living in Chicago, suburban Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties found the dozens paid by Ryan include suburban mayors, suburban GOP township committeemen and former state lawmakers, as well as elected county and township heads. Most were Republicans.

Among those who have held Ryan jobs and contracts are:

- Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins' husband, John, a GOP precinct captain in Palatine Township. He makes $33,360 as a full-time motor-vehicle technician at traffic court in Chicago. "I didn't slap George Ryan on the back and say 'Hey guy, give my husband a job and I'll help you.' That didn't happen," Mullins said.

- Crystal Lake Mayor Robert Wagner, an attorney, who made $9,937 in fiscal 1998 through a legal contract he held with Ryan's office. "I don't know if it's a patronage job. The thought never crossed my mind," Wagner said.

- Former state lawmaker James Stange of Oak Brook who made $24,617 working part-time visiting senior citizen sites to help them with state identification cards. "If it was a $200,000-a-year job, I could understand that somebody might wonder," he said. "I'm working the hours. Nothing's wrong with it."

- Hoffman Estates Village President Michael J. O'Malley, a Democrat who makes $18,554 a year to speak about Ryan's .08 drunken-driving law. "Will I help George Ryan? Yes I will. Is it because I have a job at the secretary of state's office? No it isn't," O'Malley said. "I think George Ryan is probably one of the most caring people I've ever seen. …