An Illinois county has approved a memorial honoring three former governors from Kankakee, including convicted ex-Gov. George Ryan.
The Daily Journal reports the Kankakee County board endorsed it in a 10-to-2 vote last week. It’ll be on the Kankakee courthouse lawn. It’ll also be dedicated to Len Small, governor from 1921 to 1929; and Samuel Shapiro, governor in the late 1960s.
Member Michael LaGesse opposed it, saying he didn’t get one call in favor.
Board member Robert Ellington-Snipes expressed reservations, citing Ryan’s corruption convictions. But he said Ryan also did some “good.” He voted for the plan.
Hey, it’s their county, they can do what they want. And it is most definitely unusual for a county of 110,000 or so people to have been the home to three governors.
But while lots of folks may remember George Ryan’s tenure, Len Small was about as corrupt as they come.
* From a column I wrote back in 2003…
Len Small was governor throughout the Roaring Twenties — that gilded age of prohibition and lawlessness.
Small was a close political ally of Chicago Mayor “Big” Bill Thompson, who was the Mafia’s chief enabler in this state. Small was also closely affiliated with Johnny Torrio, the guy who united the city’s innumerable rackets and gangsters under one umbrella during the beginning of Prohibition. Al Capone was Torrio’s top lieutenant, and when Torrio split town, Capone further refined his vast organization.
Len Small was known as the “pardoning governor.” He is alleged to have sold hundreds of pardons, mostly to gangsters. He even went so far as to pardon cop killers. In 1922, a group of Torrio’s bootleggers were on their way to Chicago when they shot and killed a motorcycle cop who was in full pursuit. Small pardoned the whole bunch.
Walter Stevens, the “dean of all Chicago’s gunmen,” was Johnny Torrio’s top trigger man. Stevens bumped off many of Torrio’s rivals. The murder of an Aurora policeman landed Stevens in prison, but Governor Small dutifully pardoned him. There were reports at the time that Stevens played a crucial role in helping Small beat an embezzlement charge. Some key evidence was “accidentally” burned by a janitor, who died soon afterwards.
The malfeasance charge alleged that Small, when he was state treasurer, loaned state money to an outfit-connected company at 6 percent interest, but turned over just half the profits to the state’s bank accounts. He was acquitted, but he lost a subsequent civil case and had to pony up several hundred thousand dollars.
Small was widely known as the “Roads Governor” because he passed a $100 million bond issue to build thousands of miles of roads. Not often mentioned is that the mob controlled many of the road construction unions and, by extension, the companies they organized. You can bet your house that Torrio and Capone pocketed a big chunk of that bond money.