We’re not saying he’d necessarily be the best governor, but in this year’s contest Jim Ryan certainly comes in as the candidate most likely to end up with his own soap opera-or daytime talk show. In fact, he carries so much baggage you’ve got to appreciate his tale. Rewind to 1996, when Ryan is diagnosed with cancer-non-Hodgkin’s large-cell lymphoma. Six months later his youngest daughter, 12-year-old Anne Marie, suddenly dies as the result of an undetected brain tumor. Later that year, his wife Marie nearly dies after going into cardiac arrest. And though Jim Ryan would complete cancer treatment in 1997, in February 1999 another cancerous growth was found near his jaw, necessitating more treatment-and in November 2001 another cancerous growth was found-which his advisers were quick to note was low-grade and required less treatment. Not only does he have to dodge health questions, but also his moniker. Jim Ryan, who should be able to delight in his lovely, short, politically useful name, is running for the office currently held by George Ryan, a guy who’s faced so many corruption questions that he couldn’t even run for a second term. This means Jim Ryan has to spend half his time explaining that he’s better than the current guy-a fact he’s used to explain his lagging poll figures. And then there’s the past that never goes away. As the former DuPage County State’s Attorney, Ryan was the guy who prosecuted the murder trial of Rolando Cruz, who was sent to Death Row for the murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico on evidence that was sketchy at best. He was also the guy who worked to discredit a credible suspect-who had confessed to the crime-to maintain his dubious case. Cruz’ conviction would later be overturned, and declared a gross miscarriage of justice. And Ryan has never felt the need to explain, well, anything-a fact on which he’s been lambasted at varying points during the election season, most recently just last week by Trib columnist Eric Zorn. And in the midst of having his past raked over the coals, Jim Ryan busted out again, trying to block the current Governor Ryan’s attempts to hold clemency hearings for up to 157 inmates before he leaves office. Bypassing his own role in one of the state’s most famous botched prosecutions, Ryan sued to stop the hearings, arguing for the rights of “crime victims’ families.” We’re eagerly awaiting the next chapter of Ryan’s Hope, er, story.
Best of Chicago 2002