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Sex Club Allegations Drive Senate Candidate From Race

Illinois Republican Jack Ryan denies his ex-wife's claim but says it would stifle debate.

June 26, 2004|P.J. Huffstutter and John Beckham | Times Staff Writers

CHICAGO — Illinois Republican Jack Ryan gave up his Senate bid Friday, pressured by GOP outrage over sex club allegations in his divorce records.

In the documents released Monday, his ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan, stated that he had taken her to clubs in Paris, New York and New Orleans, where he tried to force her to engage in sex acts in front of strangers.

Ryan, who repeatedly has denied the allegations, said in a statement Friday that it would be nearly impossible to continue his campaign.

"It's clear to me that a vigorous debate on the issues most likely could not take place if I remain in the race," said Ryan, 44. "What would take place, rather, is a brutal, scorched-earth campaign -- the kind of campaign that has turned off so many voters, the kind of politics I refuse to play."

The state Republican Party has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, including losing the governorship and many other statewide offices in the 2002 elections.

After the details of the divorce records were released, Illinois Republican leaders were among the first to call for Ryan to bow out.

"You've got to wonder why people don't have the good sense to say to themselves: 'Well, I've got this skeleton in my closet, so I can't really run for public office,' " said Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley.

"A lot of people are extremely naive of the level of scrutiny they will go under when they run for office, particularly people in the private sector," Cain said. "They assume that the stuff they get away with their private life, they can get away with in public life. And, of course, they're wrong, wrong, wrong."

This was the first foray into the political arena for Ryan, a self-made millionaire who had left his career as an investment banker to teach at a Chicago inner-city school.

For months, he has trailed the Democratic candidate, state Sen. Obama Barack.

A poll conducted last month by the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV showed that Obama held a 22% lead over Ryan.

The impending retirement of Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald drew 15 contenders into the race -- seven of whom are millionaires.

It also unleashed a debate about personal morals, drug use and messy divorces.

Multimillionaire Blair Hull, a Democrat, watched his political support plummet during the primary after local media reported that he allegedly had abused and threatened to kill his ex-wife, Brenda Sexton.

After Hull's marital problems became public last spring, Ryan released part of his divorce records.

But he omitted his ex-wife's allegations about the sex clubs. Jeri Ryan is best known for her television roles in "Star Trek Voyager" and "Boston Public."

Jack Ryan at the time said he would not release the remainder of the sealed file out of concern for his young son. His campaign sought to play down the allegations, saying they were nothing more than "an unprecedented smear campaign."

The Tribune and WLS-TV sued to get access to the full court file.

Last week, a Los Angeles judge ordered the material be made public.

Ryan has said the couple did attend one sex club in Paris, but left because it made them feel uncomfortable.

Illinois Republican leaders said they already were considering candidates to replace Ryan on the ballot in November, among them former state Board of Education Chairman Ron Gidwitz, state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger and dairy owner Jim Oberweis.

Gidwitz and Oberweis lost to Ryan in the March primary.

"We intend to fight for this seat," said Judy Baar Topinka, chairwoman of the Illinois Republican Party. "We will have a good candidate, a winning candidate."

Beckham reported from Chicago and Huffstutter from Milwaukee.

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