George Ryan will be released from prison five months early to participate in a work-release program in the West Loop. No one is saying yet what he’ll be doing, but I have a great idea: Big George should serve the remainder of his sentence behind the counter of the Secretary of State’s office in the basement of the James R. Thompson Center.
During his eight years as secretary of state -- eight years that were basically a waiting-period for the governorship -- I don’t think Ryan ever got a chance to appreciate what it was like to actually work for his office. I don’t remember an Undercover Boss episode with Ryan taking driver’s license photos. Serving as a clerk in a Driver’s Services branch has to be one of the most miserable white-collar jobs imaginable. The lines are long. There are too many forms to fill out. The cost of a license plate tag has more than doubled in the last 10 years, from $48 to $99. By the time most customers reach a window, they’re in a foul mood. I don’t know how anyone could work in that place without becoming a grouchy, surly misanthrope.
Ryan already is a grouchy, surly misanthrope, so the job wouldn’t ruin his personality. Plus, placing him in an office where his picture once hung on the wall would add a few delicious humiliations to his sentence. First, he’d be working in a building named after a man he served as lieutenant governor. Jim Thompson spent 14 years as governor, and in all that time, he was never convicted of anything. Second, he’d be embarrassed every time a customer recognized him, and he’d feel forgotten every time a customer didn’t. Ryan would also have to hold his tongue when someone slipped a $20 bill across the desk and cracked, “I’d also like a trucker’s license.”
In fact, I think it would have been fair if Ryan had served his entire six-and-a-half year sentence inside a Secretary of State’s office.
This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $2.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.