Hardly any idea dies and stays dead in the capital city.

Back in March, the plan. If they fail, it's considered certain that the matter will come up in Congress next year.

So who'd be top gun?

That's up in the air. But it might come down to showdown between Comptroller of the Currency Robert Clarke and Tim Ryan, director of the Office of Thrift Supervision.

Based on a roughcast poll, if the beauty contest were held today, Mr. Clarke would be the one parading down the runway with the crown and scepter. That's despite Mr. Ryan's surprisingly good rookie-year performance at the OTS.

Outsider Vs. Insider

The reason: Mr, Ryan is viewed as an outsider by both bankers and savings and loan executives while Mr. Clarke, despite numerous scars and blemishes, is embraced as one of the industry's own.

Thrift executives seem to like Mr. Clarke, perhaps because the examiners always look sweeter outside your own industry.

They think Mr. Ryan is more an "enforcer" than a regulator, and to hear them go on about him, you'd think the blackhaired, bespectacled regulator was Dirty Harry and Rambo rolled into one.

"He was sent in to do the dirty work," said a former industry official of Mr. Ryan. Another claimed that the former Department of Labor lawyer always acts as though he's negotiating with the Teamsters.

Mr. Clarke, by contrast, is viewed as one who will concede that not all industry problems stem from corruption. "Clarke, he understand it's economics and not all crooks," is the way a

The Camel Race: Clarke vs. Ryan

An unscientific survey of bankers and industry watchers gave higher grades--based loosely on the Camel rating system, with 4 being the best--to Tim Ryan. Bankers, though, say they like Bob Clarke better because, as a former bank attorney, they see him as one of their own. Robert L. Clarke T. Timothy RyanChutzpah 4 4Acumen 4 2Management 2.5 3Effectiveness 3 4Liabilities 1 4

Texas S&L representative put it.

The interviewees were asked to grade the two regulators using an adaption of the Camel ratings for financial institutions. In this case, 'C' stands for chutzpah - a Yiddish word connoting boldness - not capital.

"You know the classic definition of 'chutzpah,' don't you?" asked a consultant. "It's murdering your mother and father and then throwing yourself on the mercy of the court as an orphan."

Both Have a Lot of Gall

Both men got high marks in this category. Mr. Clarke scored well because "he's bayoneting the wounded," said the consultant, and also because he has hung in office despite pressure to go from a number of quarters - White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, unhappy bankers in New England, and critics on the Senate Banking Committee.

Mr. Ryan's admirers cited his dogged pursuit of presidential son Neil Bush, who was accused of conflicts of interest during his tenure as a director of the failed Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan in Denver. First Lady Barbara Bush has let it be known that she didn't appreciate seeing her son pursued so vigorously.

Mr. Clarke outscored Mr. Ryan in acumen, or knowledge of the banking system, primarily because he's been around longer. Mr. Clarke became comptroller in 1985; Mr. Ryan has been at OTS for a little more than a year. Both are lawyers by training who have, in effect, learned bank regulation on the job.

Picking winner in management skills was a tough call. The OCC is viewed as being better run under Mr. Clarke than under his predecessor, C. Todd Conover. But as one interviewee noted, "That's faint praise." Other respondents said, however, that Mr. Clarke's job is far more complex than Mr. Ryan's.

The OTS was in a sorry state after the s&L debacle, but Mr. Ryan didn't have to pretend his agency had money, as did predecessor M. Danny Wall. Nor does he have to deal with the nastiest part of thrift resolutions, selling assets that nobody wants into a buyer's market.

Ryan More Effective

Mr. Ryan outscored Mr. Clarke for effectiveness, the fourth leg in this five-part ranking. He was sent in to clean up the reputation of the S&L industry, and he's done it sooner than anyone expected, with help from some of Mr. Clarke's troubled banks and a punching bag called the Resolution Trust Corp.

"He's restored confidence in the indstry," said a thrift lawyer. "Attention has been focused elsewhere." But a lobbyist complained that Mr. Ryan is a "games player" with "all kinds of political agendas." Quite a few respondents had the impression that Mr. Ryan is on the make politically.

Mr. Clarke has been effetive, too, said an expert. But "did he do the right thing?"

Mr. Clarke won hands down -- the same thing as losing -- in the liabilities category. Thus, his low score of 1. He's got more baggage than a cruise ship and has been a magnet for bad publicity as a result.

Like the kid in the school yard with a "kick me" sign taped to his back, he's been thumped by Democrats in Congress for his handling of the Bank of new England failurke. And that's just the beginning.

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