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Alcoholic Mayor of Sheboygan Is Ousted

Bob Ryan tells The Fix why he lost his recall election last night—and why it felt good to throw reporters out of his post-election party.

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Bob Ryan must say goodbye to office.
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By Will Godfrey

02/22/12

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Bob Ryan—the recovering alcoholic mayor of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, whose relapses in 2009, 2010 and 2011brought him national fame—was defeated last night in the second round of a recall election triggered by citizens who objected to his binge-drinking behavior. Unofficial totals show Ryan lost by a few hundred votes to opponent Terry Van Akkeren, who will now serve out the rest of Ryan's term until next spring. But speaking with The Fix today, Ryan says his defeat has "a silver lining," in that "a lot of the stresses in my life have suddenly been lifted away." He thinks three factors ultimately caused the election result: "myself, obviously, and my behavior," plus Van Akkeren's labor union affiliations, and the decision of local newspaper the Sheboygan Press to run front page allegations of improprieties in Ryan's casino negotiations with local tribes on election day.

Ryan has a long-running feud with the Sheboygan Press; he told The Fix that he has "zero respect" for the publication in a pre-election interview, when he also discussed his recovery, dealing with humiliation and why Wisconsin has such a big alcohol problem. And the ousted mayor tells us he threw the paper's representatives out of his post-election party at a bar/restaurant last night (at which he says he felt "absolutely no temptation" to drink.) "I just told them to get out. I know you're not supposed to take revenge in recovery, but that felt pretty good," he recalls. "They said, 'But look, all these camera crews are still here.' And I said, 'I don't care; they're not you!'" He then made a speech to his supporters about the media's treatment of him and others in recovery that he says brought tears to the eyes of some other reporters in attendance.

As for the future, 48-year-old Ryan now plans to write a book about his personal journey, with plenty of space devoted to the surreptitious filming and photography in Wisconsin bars that was ultimately his political undoing. Otherwise, he is "available for employment" and rules out running for office again. "I did everything to gain people's confidence back," he tells us, "but it wasn't enough. I've done what I could for this city. Now I'll have more time to devote to working my program."

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