Friday, November 30, 2012

OK, so who is this Dan Ryan anyway?

One of our local expressways (other than the Bishop Ford/Calumet) is the Dan Ryan Expressway, basically the route that the Red Line south take. That is the route that is often referred as the Dan Ryan line for you old timers (i.e. Howard-Dan Ryan) at least those who remember the route names from before CTA assigned their L routes colors.

Here's a history lesson from WBEZ's John Schmidt:
He was born Daniel Ryan Jr. in 1894. Daniel Ryan Sr. was a Democrat office-holder who followed the Chicago political tradition of naming his son after himself. The elder Ryan eventually became President of the Cook County Board. Dan Ryan Woods, at 87th Street and Western Avenue, is named after him.

Our Dan Ryan grew up on the South Side. He served in the Navy during World War I, then earned a law degree from Chicago-Kent. When Dan Ryan Sr. died in 1923, Democrat leaders followed another local tradition. They appointed his son to the vacancy on the County Board.

After finishing out his father’s term, Young Dan ran the family insurance business for a while. In 1930 he became a candidate for the County Board in his own right, and was elected. He stayed on the Board for the rest of his life.

Dan Ryan was a Democrat Machine politician, with all that implies. He formed alliances with various factions and gradually built up his power base. As early as 1933, when Anton Cermak was killed, Ryan was in the running to be slated as Mayor of Chicago, but was passed over. His fondest ambition was to become Governor of Illinois. He never made that office, either.

“He lacked the ruthless ambition to reach the top,” one writer said. “He sat in on all the inner-circle meetings, but usually more as a spectator than a manipulator.” And yet, he got things done. Ryan was a big, bluff, hearty man who had few enemies. Republicans were still a factor in local politics, and he got along famously with them.

In 1954 he matched his father by being elected County Board President. County government was politically-infested then–just as it had been in the past, just as it is today. But Ryan kept things in line. During his tenure, there were no major scandals.

Sometimes he rose above politics. When University of Illinois trustees wanted to take over a big chunk of the forest preserve, Ryan stopped them cold. At another Board meeting, a scientist requested money to buy cages for research dogs. Ryan was a dog lover. His response was: “The only use we could make of such cages is to put research scientists in them.”
On a related note, we looked at who Bishop Ford was too a few years back and it even got noticed by Chicago Tonight.

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