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Erickson: Ryans relished role as first family

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When he was governor, George Ryan carried on a gubernatorial tradition of opening the Executive Mansion around the Christmas holiday for a big party.

Even though Ryan was under investigation and the subject of a daily onslaught of unflattering stories by reporters, he would still stand behind the bar and personally serve his guests a cold bottle of beer.

His wife, Lura Lynn, would often sit nearby in a corner and greet well-wishers with grace, charm and wit the opposite of her husband's usually gruff demeanor.

The former first lady died Monday at age 76, on the same day Ryan's successor, Rod Blagojevich, was found guilty of corruption in a federal courtroom in Chicago.

It was an odd intersection of Illinois politics, but it reminded me of one of the key differences between the Ryan and Blagojevich administrations.

Although both will be remembered for corruption, it now seems obvious Ryan and his wife relished the role they'd been given to play by the voters.

By contrast, being the first family seemed like all work and no play for the Blagojevichs. They shunned the mansion and looked askance at Springfield traditions like the Illinois State Fair.

And, as some of the recordings made public by federal prosecutors showed, by the time Blagojevich was in his second term, he didn't even want to be governor anymore.

His wish came true.

Congress update

The race to be the Democratic nominee in the newly drawn 13th Congressional District could be a crowded one.

At least five potential candidates are mulling a run for the seat in the March primary.

Last week, emergency room physician David Gill of Bloomington put his hat in the ring.

Mark Lee, a Springfield-area labor attorney who grew up in Decatur, told me he's strongly considering a bid.

And Champaign County Board member Brendan McGinty said he is crunching the numbers and thinking about a run.

Former state Reps. Bob Flider of Mount Zion and Jay Hoffman of Collinsville also have been mentioned as potential candidates for the district that stretches from Bloomington-Normal to the Metro East.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson of Urbana has already announced he's running for the seat, which includes all or parts of Decatur, Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal and Springfield.

McGinty said the district looks potentially winnable for a Democrat. But, he says he wants to get a better handle on who's really running and whether there will be support from the national party.

"A bloody primary race wouldn't be conducive to beating an incumbent like Johnson," McGinty said.

Thank GOP it's Friday

The Illinois Republican Party issued an interesting analysis last week of how it believes Democrats tried to keep the public in the dark about the legislative redistricting process.

In almost every instance, the GOP says, Democrats chose to inform the public about the newly drawn maps on Friday afternoons.

The House redistricting map, for example, was released on Friday afternoon, May 20.

The House and Senate redistricting maps were passed late on Friday, May 27, the day before Memorial Day weekend.

The congressional redistricting map was released late on a Friday, May 27, the day before Memorial Day weekend.

Quinn signed the maps into law on Friday afternoons.

"The fact is that Governor Quinn and Springfield Democrats know just how closed and unfair this process has been," said Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady. "Why else would they strategically release critical information under the cover of the weekend at every opportunity?"

Message to Brady: This is a timeworn strategy that also has been routinely employed by, egads, Republicans.

I wrote a story about the same kind of Friday night follies way back in 1996 after then-Gov. Jim Edgar signed a bill banning same-sex marriages late on a Friday night.

Here's what it said:

"Unofficially, theories resonating through the press room range from a devious plot aimed at making reporters' lives miserable to a simple case of savvy news management by the governor."

It still applies today.

Birthday wishes

For some reason, it's easy for me to remember state Rep. Dan Brady's birthday.

And, because of that, he gets a special birthday shout-out.

Brady, a Bloomington Republican who is a cousin of Pat Brady, turns 50 on July 4.

He will be celebrating by walking in a number of parades and then heading over to the evening fireworks show.

"I'll be doing what I've been doing for the last 25 years," Brady said.

Kurt Erickson is Lee Statehouse Bureau chief. He can be reached at or 217-782-4043.


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