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A Story with Legs

Jeri Ryan's divorce papers are the summer's political blockbuster. Is there any way out for Jack Ryan, or is resistance futile?

12:00 AM, Jun 25, 2004 • By BILL WHALEN
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SOMEWHERE in the deep dark recesses of Burbank, Jay Leno's writers rejoice. Having received the gift that keeps giving--Bill Clinton's tell-all, spin-all biography--they now have another present in the form of the Illinois U.S. Senate race, where Republican contender Jack Ryan is embroiled in a controversy over unsealed divorce records.

It began a week ago, when a Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed to make public complete copies or parts of 26 of 44 documents he'd earlier sealed after settling a 2000-2001 custody dispute between Ryan, a multimillionaire investment banker-turned school teacher, and his ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan, best known from Boston Public and Star Trek Voyager (plus a mercifully minor role in the mercilessly awful movie Down With Love).

Boring the papers weren't. The former Mrs. Ryan detailed three "surprise" trips the couple took to New Orleans, New York, and Paris in 1998, during which her ex-husband insisted they attend sex clubs. After declining to enter a club in the Big Easy, Ryan consented while in the Big Apple, describing the Manhattan décor as "a bizarre club with cages, whips, and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling." She further alleged that Jack Ryan asked her to perform a sexual act while others watched, which she says she refused. In Paris, she added, it was the same deal: another sex club, another request for a public sex act. In the documents, Jeri Ryan describes the Paris scene as "people . . . having sex everywhere. I cried. I was physically ill. [He] became very upset with me and said it was not a 'turn on' for me to cry." In his legal response, Jack Ryan counters that he did arrange "romantic getaways," but they didn't include "the type of activities she describes . . . We did go to one avant-garde nightclub in Paris, which was more than either one of us felt comfortable with. We left and vowed never to return," he said.

Unfortunately for candidate Ryan, who trailed in his Senate bid before the steamy allegations became public (a SurveyUSA poll has Democrat Barack Obama ahead, 50 percent to 39 percent), the humor writes itself:

* The candidate shares the same name as Tom Clancy's fictional hero (played in films not by Republicans but by über-Democrats Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck). Maybe candidate Ryan saw the trysts as Patriot Games; they're a Clear and Present Danger to his political hopes.

* Jeri Ryan's Voyager character, Seven of Nine, was a borg: part human/part cybernetic implants. Couldn't Jack Ryan have programmed her to obey his commands?

* Then again, what was he expecting? Among Seven of Nine's signature lines: "resistance is futile"; "pleasure is irrelevant"; and "I will not comply."

* Regardless, you won't hear Jack Ryan echoing Jack Kennedy's sentiment: "I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it."

AS FOR THE ILLINOIS ELECTORATE, consider their confusion. At various times in Chicago this week, a Democrat who used to hold office was telling Oprah why he had sex in a private way in a public place with someone other than his wife. Meanwhile, a Republican who wants to hold office was explaining to reporters why he tried to have sex in a public way in a private place with someone who used to be his wife.

So how does this tawdriness play out for the Republican hopeful in Illinois--land of Lincoln and birthplace of Reagan? You can argue that it might get Ryan votes--that is, if you're so imaginary as to buy into the concept of a latent "Maxim Males" vote. Maxim magazine, which bills itself as "the largest men's general interest magazine" in the United States, caters to males ages 21 to 34. It's a similar demographic to cleavage-worshipping Howard Stern listeners, who are being implored by the shock jock to vote for John Kerry. If such a vote exists, maybe Ryan can tap into a piece of the electorate that's easily impressed by an ample . . . libido. By the way, the candidate's ex-wife posed for Maxim in June 2002.

It might also earn Ryan a new fondness among a second set of voters: Trekkies and sci-fi nerds who build Internet shrines to worship the former Mrs. Ryan's Seven of Nine character (this group's lead spokesman: "the Comic Book Guy," sole proprietor of The Simpsons' Android's Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop).

Ryan can also try to tap into a set of voters that exists not just in Illinois, but nationwide: people who distrust the mainstream media, and think they have it in for Republicans. The Chicago Tribune and Chicago TV station WLS sued to have the documents released (Ryan and his ex-wife both fought the release, saying it would be harmful to their 9-year-old son).