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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 14:08 GMT
Illinois: Tale of two Ryans
JiM Ryan campaigning (picture Matt Wells)
Jim Ryan is trying to shake-off the image of his namesake

Politics in the "windy city" has always been a matter of life and death, but in the run up to these mid-term elections that cliché has become macabre fact.

The Illinois governorship is contested once every four years, and for the Republicans the opportunity to replace their incumbent this year could not come fast enough.

Within months of taking office, George Ryan's administration became mired in corruption.

George Ryan
George Ryan has halted executions
There was a scandal where truck drivers had been paying officials in the governor's former department for the right licence plates.

There was no evidence linking George Ryan himself, but 40 of his team have been convicted.

In the midst of this scandal two years ago, Mr Ryan tried to redeem his shattered reputation.


Thanks to the investigative work of a group of Chicago University journalism students looking at Illinois prisoners on death-row, 13 of the convictions were revealed to be unsafe. George Ryan decided to call a halt to any further executions - a moratorium which in the final few days of his administration, is still in place.

Greg Anderson
"If the average person can't figure out which Ryan is which, they probably ought not to be voting. I think the clemency hearings are a good thing. On the death penalty, generally I'm against it but I support it in certain situations."

Professional services manager, Greg Anderson, 35

Political writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, Scott Fornek, said: "Many speculated that he was trying to deflect attention. It came after he saw 13 innocent men exonerated.

"It's overly cynical to say he did it for political reasons. Was the timing a little questionable? That's possible."

To many outside the state, his ban on further executions made him something of a principled hero. But in the last few months his insistence on reviewing all 142 remaining death-row cases at a series of gruelling hearings involving relatives of the dead, have brought further political controversy, and criticism from supporters of the death penalty.

Name confusion

The biggest and simplest problem the Republican party faces in this governorship race, is the name of their candidate.

He too is called Ryan - Jim Ryan - the 56-year-old current attorney general of the state.

He is a classic conservative candidate in many ways, though in favour of more gun-control than that epithet normally implies.

The aggravation of the name confusion was still evident in these final days of the campaign, although polls now show that 87% of the electorate can tell their Ryans apart.

Jim Ryan trails by 10 points, but at times it is still difficult to discern whether he is running against a Democrat, or his tainted namesake.

"The overarching issue is trust," he said. "Who can restore trust in government, who can clean up all of the sleaze that we've seen?

Rick Lawton

"People here are about as fed up as they could be. When you see people on TV making flat-out lies about each other, it turns everybody off. I'm not going to vote this year the Ryan thing is part of it, but it's a combination of everything. I'm very much for the death penalty."

Medical student, Rick Lawton, 40

"I don't care if they're Democrats or Republicans, I just want honest hard-working good professional. I'm going to work hard to put together a cabinet you'll be proud of."

George Ryan is saying nothing in these final days and his refusal to rule out the possibility that he might commute all the death row prisoners' sentences to life imprisonment, is further damaging the Republicans' cause.

Having felt unfairly typecast as a corrupt old-school Chicago fixer, he has lashed-back at his namesake. But it is not just the one race at stake - all of the Republican candidates for state seats and public offices could suffer from the Ryan effect.

The chief beneficiary of the Ryan fallout is 45-year-old Rod Blagojevich, the Democrats' candidate for the governorship.

Democratic hands

He has combined liberal policies - though he is not against the death penalty - with an ability to milk the old party machine, and raise much more cash than his opponent.

Like Jim Ryan, of course, he is promising change. He would be the first Democrat governor of Illinois in 26 years, despite the astonishing fact that the Chicago mayor's office has been in the Democratic hands of the Daly family for most of the last 50 years.

It is on economic turf though, that Blagojevich's squeaky-clean performance could get bogged-down.

Republican supporters are predicting a "nuclear winter" for business as he moves into Springfield - the state capital - which has major budget deficit problems. Scott Fornek says he has had a near-faultless campaign so far, but the huge contributions he has accepted will have to be repaid in some form.

Thanks to his name and his party label, it looks as though he won't get the decision on points

Most of the main newspapers in the state have endorsed Jim Ryan, the chief concern being whether the Elvis-loving Democrat can really balance the books.

Mr Blagojevich's defence is simple. He can afford an estimated $800m in promised spending because the current figures are wrong, he told voters in central Illinois.

Both Mr Ryan and Mr Blagojevich have one thing in common. As young men they were both Golden Gloves boxers - though only Jim Ryan became champion.

This time, largely thanks to his name and his party label, it looks as though he won't get the decision on points which he craves.

Key races




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