Bob Ney, post-prison
Bob Ney had it all: a wife, two kids and a rising career in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But the Ohio Republican became the first member of Congress to plead guilty to charges in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Ney resigned his seat in 2006 and served 17 months of a 30-month sentence in a federal pokey in Morgantown, W.Va. He and his wife divorced in 2008.
Today Ney is executive director of Mending Minds, a foundation that teaches people with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse to cope by using meditation and breathing.
We spoke by telephone on Tuesday, his 57th birthday.
Q: You wrote an open letter to (former congressman and Illinois Gov.) Rod Blagojevich in which you say, "We live in a country of second chances." Why did you write the letter?
A: I first thought about writing it and ran it by my friend and boss, Ellen Ratner. ... She hates for me to call her boss. I said I'm really hesitant to write this because when you write something like that, you're going to get some static in the sense of, "Well, what did you write that for• Publicity?" I am far beyond the publicity days, trust me.
I wrote if for three reasons. One, I know Rod Blagojevich and served with him and got along with Rod. He was a nice guy. And pretty practical.
Number two, I can sympathize with him. He got it worse than I did. He's ... going to get a longer sentence. But he's got a family, and I know what this does to families.
But third is a little bit different. It's for somebody who is aspiring to public life of any level or any type. Maybe they see this and hope that they don't get such a letter one day from somebody.
Q: Tell us how your life is these days.
A: The congressional schedule was horrific. Almost any Congress member's schedule is horrific. So I had to readjust over 2006, 2007, really to a completely different way of life.
I work for Talk Radio News Service, Ellen Ratner. I call her the Queen of the Left because she is way, way, way to the left. She's a White House news correspondent.
Q: How do you guys get along?
A: Well, good. I've known Ellen a long time. We met through a radio station -- Howard Monroe down in Wheeling (W.Va.) has WVLY. One morning I called in while Ellen was calling in her news report. This was back in the early '90s, and it ended up we both got clicked in at the same time. ...
So anyway, we got on the radio at the same time and after that we used to do a little bit of the shtick of "Ellen, you evil lefty," and "You conservative monster Republican." And we became friends.
Later on, due to a strange twist ... on her 50th birthday, she really wanted me at her party, and it would have involved two weekends in Washington and because of the family I never did that.
So I rearranged a visit to open the NASDAQ and to close the New York Stock Exchange. The (way the) visit was scheduled, I would have opened NASDAQ at 7:30 in the morning, then go up to the top of the (World Trade Center) towers and have a little reception; there's a restaurant up there. There was. And then come down around 10-ish (and) do a noon fundraiser. Of course, you're in New York (so) you're going to do a fundraiser. And then eventually close the exchange.
That was Sept. 11 ( 2001). Due to not wanting two weekends, they rearranged it and I went one week earlier ... .
Q: Oh my goodness ...
A: Yup. Ellen turns 60 this year. That was her 50th birthday.
Q: That's some kind of karma there, Bob.
A: I thought so. Anyway, she came up to prison offering me a job, which I declined at first, and then I thought, "Oh, whatever Ellen tells you to do, you better do." So I do talk radio news for Ellen and it's an interesting gig. ... I'll call stations, and if they bring up Fannie and Freddie or the debt ceiling, I can revert back to what happened when I was there.
In April of 2009, I started my own radio show with Howard Monroe. I did that until April of 2010. We were doing good. We were going to try to syndicate the show, and I'll just be frank with you -- I just got tired of doing a daily show.
So Ellen and I formed Mending Minds.
Q: You call yourself a recovering Republican ...
A: When I went to prison, I didn't totally morph on my positions on Second Amendment rights. ... But when it came to the whole world of incarceration and crime, I have morphed to where I would call myself a recovering Republican. It's kind of an inside joke.
I just think, "Lock them up, throw the key away," is not the way. I'm not talking about white-collar criminals. I'm talking about the 70 percent of the drug offenders whom I lived among for a year. It opened my eyes.
Q: What is your advice to younger people who might be thinking about running for office?
A: These are high-pressure jobs. You're going to get stressed, no question about it. And they need at times to remain in balance.
Politically, you know, all politics is local -- check back where the people are.
The second thing, don't get into ... "Oh well, it's minor infractions, nothing will happen, you won't get caught," blah, blah, blah.
Combine that with a lot of pressure and bad judgment and you end up where I ended up.
My advice is stay balanced and when you think you're balanced, check it with somebody else. And get yourself a good attorney, a good accountant and a good bail bondsman.