Let us not forget that it was Ryan who started landbanking for the Peotone Airport.
Who would have predicted that Ryan would be indicted, let alone convicted, of multiple felonies, including racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, making false statements, extortion, money laundering, structuring money, tax fraud and filing false tax returns?
The fall of George Ryan began with the tragic death of six innocent children belonging to the Rev. Scott and Janet Willis. The events began a probe into Ryan’s conduct in public office.
Though Ryan did not directly cause the accident, it was later learned that the driver of the truck that caused the accident illegally obtained a drivers license when Ryan was Secretary of State. And Ryan pals who now sit in jail, tried to cover up the investigation of the accident.
George Ryan’s downfall was his arrogance, rooted in the belief that he was above the law.
Many say that Ryan was a nice guy, a kindly grandfather. Well, that may be the case, but the test of a person’s character cannot be accurately measured by how he plays with his grandchildren.
A true test of character is evident by how a man behaves under adversity and how he reacts to problems.
Ryan handled problems like a bully on the playground, scornfully dismissing anyone who disagreed with him.
Had it not been for a hardnosed prosecutor with a keen sense of right and wrong, Ryan would be just another ex-governor who hurt people without a sense of remorse.
Ryan never flinched when he hurt people with his decisions.
In eastern Will County, Ryan certainly hurt people. Had it not been for his actions as Governor, the Peotone airport project would have died in 1992. At that time, Ryan did the right thing -- voting appropriately -- against locating an airport near Peotone. As a member of the Bi-State Policy Committee that was charged with selecting the right site for a new airport, Ryan cast the deciding “no” vote for the Peotone site.
Once in the top political spot in Illinois however, Ryan followed in the footsteps of his predecessor Jim Edgar, who threw the first Illinois tax dollars at the proposal to build an airport at Peotone.
Not to be outdone, Ryan took it a few steps further. While Edgar threw money into additional studies, Ryan, for the first time, put money into the state’s budget for land acquisition.
Ten years after Ryan did the right thing by voting against Peotone, he did the wrong thing by boldly deciding to buy the first piece of property.
Apparently it didn’t matter that the first piece – a vacant parcel in Heatherbrook Estates in Monee Township -- was outside the state’s downsized airport plan.
Nor did it matter that officially, there was no project, since the Federal Aviation Administration had not identified a site for a new airport. The Phase I Environmental Impact Statement was not even completed at the time.
When the Tier I EIS was finally completed, it was after the fact. While the agency’s determination that buying land for an airport would not endanger the environment, in a letter to Ryan pal Kirk Brown, who headed the Department of Transportation, the agency wrote that Illinois was buying land at its own risk.
That action caused many to wonder about the political motivations behind the deal.
Land acquisition fell under the influence of the Airport Project Office in Matteson, run by former Monee Township Supervisor Christine Cochrane, who was named by Edgar.
Later, Cochrane became an assistant to Ryan political pal Brad Roseberry who then headed the project office.
Roseberry quit the post when he testified in court against Ryan. He admitted that he campaigned for Ryan on state time and shredded documents during Ryan’s tenure as Secretary of State. Roseberry escaped indictment, however, when he agreed to testify against Ryan and Ryan pal Scott Fawell.
Ryan’s first land deal netted one vacant lot in Heatherbrook Estates, but the token piece was all it took to inspire near panic sales by other landowners, already worn down by years of uncertainty.
The $47,000 price tag was a cheap price to pay to get the real estate door opened for the Peotone project. Never mind that it wasn’t even a part of the state’s 4,000 acres needed for its “starter” airport.
Another 27 parcels in Heatherbrook Estates were purchased by the state, totally relieving owner/developer Bob Bonnema from having to sell lots in his upscale subdivision. Another 65 acres has been purchased by the state to date.
Ironically, under the Blagojevich administration, Ryan’s actions were undone. It was decided to sell the Heatherbrook properties, since they weren’t needed. Residents there cried hardship, earning little sympathy from other eastern Will County landowners that have suffered since long before Heatherbrook was built.
An entire region has faced a hellish existence because George Ryan made a deal.
Despite the fact that Ryan was not directly responsible for the death of the Willis kids, he is responsible for destruction of peace and pleasure in eastern Will County.