KANKAKEE, Ill. – Gov. George Ryan's decision not to run for re-election set off a scramble among potential candidates who are vying for the seat that Ryan will vacate after one beleaguered term. One of the first to enter the race was another man named Ryan.
George Ryan told a hometown crowd of supporters Wednesday that he wanted to govern free of the stress of a campaign during his final year. He never mentioned the driver's license scandal that caused his voter approval ratings to plummet.
Attorney General Jim Ryan, a fellow Republican but no relation, wasted no time in launching his bid for governor in the 2002 election. He made his announcement Thursday in the Chicago suburb of Villa Park, standing outside the modest brick house he grew up in and where he said he learned "faith, family, hard work, (and) personal responsibility."
On Wednesday, George Ryan spent a half-hour ticking off his accomplishments as governor -- from suspending executions to devoting more money to education -- before finally revealing his decision.
He also had harsh words for conservative Republicans who criticized him for raising taxes to build roads, vetoing abortion restrictions for women on Medicaid and supporting anti-discrimination protection for gays.
"I can take the heat, but I worry for the Republican Party," said the 67-year-old governor, who has held statewide office since he became lieutenant governor in 1983. "If we're to be successful, we need to listen more and shout less. We need to moderate our positions."
Both Jim Ryan and the only previously declared GOP candidate for governor, state Sen. Patrick O'Malley, are more conservative than George Ryan. Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood, a moderate, also is considering a run.
Some Republicans questioned whether Ryan could be re-elected, despite accomplishments that include leadership on a $12 billion construction project and efforts to bring Boeing Co. to the state.
Ryan has been dogged by a federal investigation of widespread trading of driver's licenses for bribes, mostly while he was secretary of state. Prosecutors say at least $170,000 of the bribe money ended up in Ryan's campaign fund, although the governor has not been charged with wrongdoing and has repeatedly denied knowledge of the bribes.
Some GOP colleagues said the scandal was a major stumbling block in running again.
"But for the secretary of state driver's license business I think George Ryan would have been a candidate for re-election," former Gov. Jim Thompson said.
A half-dozen or so Democrats have been laying the groundwork for the governor's race, sensing a real shot at ending Republicans' 24-year control of the executive mansion.
Ryan would have faced a bruising primary and, if he survived, a long campaign of attacks on his honesty.
Forty-one people have been charged for accepting or paying bribes in exchange for driver's licenses. Thirty-six people have been convicted, including Ryan's longtime friend Dean Bauer, the former chief investigator in his secretary of state office.