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Now hidden from public eye, Jack Ryan handed Obama path to White House

Now hidden from public eye, Jack Ryan handed Obama path to White House

offBeat with PHILIP POTEMPA

Just when you think every story possible has been covered, both inside and out, about this 2008 presidential race, there's one that has had little or no steam of late.

From Gov. Sarah Palin's wardrobe and reading habits to Sen. Joseph Biden's fears of a young, inexperienced president being "tested" by our country's enemies to Sen. John McCain's age and Sen. Barack Obama's connections to everyone from Oprah Winfrey and the Mafia to terrorists and Tony Rezko, it seems like voters have heard it all during this campaign season.

But it's Election Day 2008, and I'm going to share an interesting reminder of the tortuous tale of the man who almost ran against Obama during his Senate race, the same man who could have claimed the Senate seat that helped usher the young Democratic senator from Illinois to the threshold of the White House.

How many readers remember Illinois Republican 2004 senatorial candidate Jack Ryan?

As he campaigned for the Illinois Primary election in March 2004, voters found this 44-year-old politician to have charm, charisma, an award-winning smile, lots of money and movie-star good looks.

Sound a lot like the late John F. Kennedy?

Well, more than one media outlet not only compared Ryan to members of the Kennedy clan, but even drew comparisons to how much he even looked like John F. Kennedy Jr.

Born and reared in the affluent North Chicago area of Wilmette, Ill., Ryan graduated from New Trier High School, which has the distinction of having such famous Hollywood-star alums as Ann-Margret, Charlton Heston and Rock Hudson.

And on the subject of Hollywood names, Ryan married late (and great) in life in 1991, to actress Jeri Ryan, who has starred in movies and television series such as "Boston Public" and "Star Trek: Voyager."

The couple had one child together, a son Alex, born in 1994, before they divorced in 1999 and Ryan decided to leave his lucrative seven-figure-a-year job as an investment banker to use his Dartmouth College degree to teach at a Catholic high school before entering politics.

After running in the Illinois primary for the Senate seat to replace fellow Republican and retiring Peter Fitzgerald, he won the primary nomination against Illinois ice cream and milk mogul Jim Oberweis on March 16, 2004, to face Democrat Obama, who had just won his party's nomination.

However, The Chicago Tribune and WLS-TV Channel 7 in Chicago had been tipped off by sources (who many alleged where supporters or those associated with Obama's camp) to look into the divorce filings from Ryan's marriage to his actress wife. The couple had mutually agreed the custody sections of their divorce files would be sealed for the welfare and consideration of their son.

The two Chicago media outlets joined forces to seek a court order that all the divorce records be made public and succeeded on June 22, 2004, revealing to the public the reasons for the divorce and custody request.

The actress, who also was a former Miss Illinois and crowned a runner-up in the 1990 Miss America Pageant, testified in court documents alleging her then-husband had repeatedly subjected her to visits to "sex clubs" while they traveled to cities around the world (New Orleans, New York, Paris ...) and had wanted her to participate in the activities that guests engaged in, while part of the "anything goes" environment which she described as "bizarre" with landscapes of whips, cages and "other apparatus hanging from the ceilings."

However, during her ex-husband's campaign, she never spoke or commented to the media about anything that involved the Senate hopeful.

By June 25, Ryan withdrew his candidacy for the Senate race and was replaced by Alan Keyes, who lost to Obama, gaining only 27 percent of the November votes, compared to Obama's 70 percent.

German-born actress Ryan, now 40, married French chef Christophe Eme and in March 2008, the couple had a daughter Gisele.

Jack Ryan, 48, has remained single and keeps a low profile these days.

And despite the fact that it was the media that sparked his political downfall, his new career is as a community newspaper publisher in Chicagoland, overseeing a combined circulation of more than 100,000 readers of six newspapers serving the Chicago suburbs of Orland Park, Frankfort, Mokena, Tinley Park, New Lenox and Homer Glen.

When he first announced his campaign to run for the U.S. Senate, Ryan said his campaign was "about happiness."

"Not only happiness for yourselves," he said.

"But happiness [should be about] making other people fulfilled in their lives."

Is it Obama's dream Ryan has helped fulfill?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at ppotempa@nwitimes.com or 219.852.4327.

celebBirthdays

Former CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite is 92. Actress Doris Roberts ("Everybody Loves Raymond") is 78. Actress Loretta Swit ("MASH") is 71. Singer Harry Elston of Friends of Distinction is 70. Singer Delbert McClinton is 68. First Lady Laura Bush is 62. Actress Markie Post is 58. Singer-guitarist Chris Difford of Squeeze and pianist Yanni are 54. Country singer Kim Forester of the Forester Sisters and actress Kathy Griffin are 48. Actor Ralph Macchio and "Survivor" host Jeff Probst are 47. Actor Matthew McConaughey and rapper-producer Diddy aka Sean Combs are 39. Singer Shawn Rivera of Az Yet is 37. Actress Heather Tom ("Bold and the Beautiful," "One Life To Live") is 33. Gospel/R & B singer George Huff is 28.

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