First, the disclaimer.
I ran as the Libertarian Party candidate against Jim Ryan and Rod Blagojevich in 2002. I got so few votes that it did not affect the outcome. Ryan would have lost whether or not I had been in the race as a third party candidate.
After that race, I started writing articles for Illinois Leader. When my name became known as a reporter through the internet, I started getting calls from a man in Cumberland County about how a politically powerful Republican judge, Robert Cochonour, had looted a community foundation. He wanted me to write a story.
I got lots of information from him.
But this was a big story. I couldn’t wrap my arms around it with everything else I was doing.
I told him he really needed folks at a paper like the Chicago Tribune to take it on.
Low and behold, the Tribune did so…in a two-part story. Reporter Michael Higgins wrote the stories.
First there was a front page story on June 19, 2005. You can buy it here.
I remember a second article the next day, but can’t find it in the Tribune archives.
Then, on August 3rd, the crooked judge testified under threat of losing the sweetheart deal that Jim Ryan cut with him right before Ryan left office in 2003..
So, what about that “sweetheart deal?”
Take a look at the press release from Ryan’s office, dated January 3, 2003. The 2002 election was two months before. Ryan’s staff was packing up his office mementos.
The release announces that Cochonour “stole” funds from the Jay E. Hayden Foundation. It mentions he was a Circuit Court judge.
It doesn’t mention that the judge got to keep his pension as a former state’s attorney and to get his pension for being a judge.
An August 3, 2005, article by the Tribune’s Higgins says,
“The plea deal is crucial for Cochonour–and unpopular with many in Cumberland County–because it allowed him to keep a judicial pension of $76,650 a year.
“He also gets a pension of nearly $19,000 a year as a former Cumberland County state’s attorney, according to the transcript.”
If Jim Ryan is nominated Tuesday to be the flag carrier for the Republican Party, can you imagine the television commercial based on this plea bargain?
It could be a twofer.
I’m too cheap to buy the article, but my Cumberland County contact insisted there were elements to the fraud that involved Cochonour in his role as a judge. If so, prosecution could have resulted in his losing both of his public pensions, just as George Ryan did when convicted of a felony.
So, the case could be used to attack Ryan’s integrity.
And, then there is the pension angle.
The state is projected to have real problems paying its pension burden and here Ryan is allowing (how would such a commercial describe Ryan?) “a crooked Republican crony” (?) to keep “not one, but two” pensions.
That’s one reason I don’t think Jim Ryan can be elected governor.
= = = = =
As I was finishing this article, Jim Ryan called. He sounded really tired.
He was no more willing to talk to me today than he and Blagojevich were to debate me in 2002.
Twice Ryan mentioned “corruption:”
“…our culture of corruption…
“I’ll end corruption in Springfield.”
I’ll give him one point.
A Ryan administration starting in 2011 is bound to be less corrupt that one would have been had it started in 2003 when Ryan’s biggest lifetime contributor Stuart Levine would have been appointed to the same boards (the Downstate Teachers Retirement System and the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board) by Ryan that Blagojevich appointed him to.
You can’t convince me that Levine would not have been trying to cut the same illegal deals under a Ryan Administration that he did under Blagojevich.
= = = = =
Lots of other political stories here.