Fifty-nine year old Jim Ridings has self-published a new book (342 pp.) about a corrupt governor of Illinois, which includes statements like these:

  • “He is so unscrupulous that his lack of principle gives him the appearance of audacity.”
  • “Insufferable”
  • “Small-minded”
  • “Unprincipled”
  • “Maybe his bad record is a help to him…It is so bad, it is unbelievable.  When the truth is told, people say it cannot be so, and that there must be a vicious reason behind the telling of it.” (Chicago Tribune editorial about this governor.)
  • “The great game of politics is played everywhere, but nowhere with greater zest than in the state of Illinois.” (“Time” magazine article about this governor).
  • First Governor of Illinois to be arrested while in office.
  • “Is the worst governor the state ever had.  We believe he is the worst governor any state ever had.  He has contaminated everything with which he has come in contact in politics.” (Editorial from the Chicago Tribune)

So, who are we talking about here?

The question is valid, because, at this point, the book begins to outline how the governor of Jim Ridings’ book “did wickedly, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously embezzle and fraudulently convert to his own use” more than a million dollars in state money when he was Illinois treasurer in 1904, prior to becoming Governor of Illinois, a post he held from 1921 to 1929.

When arrested, this Governor refused to surrender to authorities for nearly 3 weeks, claiming that the doctrine of separation of powers protected him from arrest. He threatened to use the National Guard to place Springfield under martial law to protect him.

Prosecutors said the accused Governor had deposited millions into a fictitious bank to defraud the state out of interest payments, and that he had operated a money-laundering scheme. The defense maintained that the governor didn’t really know what was being done in his name and was the victim of his mean-spirited political foes. This Governor considered the Chicago Tribune to be chief among his “political foes,” as a current website about the governor and his family says, “The Chicago Tribune championed a cause against the Governor which impressed upon him the importance of hometown newspaper(s).”

I know you have all been reading this and thinking that the scoundrel’s name was Rod Blagojevich.

In reality, Rod Blagojevich was the second Governor of Illinois to be arrested while in office. The first was Lennington Small, a Republican from Kankakee whose offspring went on to found the Small Newspaper Group, and the SNG website says, “He established the integrity of the business through personal example.”

[After the list of charges above, I’m almost afraid to consider what that might have meant.]

Lennington Small, when brought to trial, was acquitted, but a juror and two Chicago mobsters were later indicted on charges that the jury had been bribed. Small, upon his acquittal and subsequent re-election bid (!), commuted the sentences of two other mobsters who had been jailed for refusing to cooperate with the grand jury investigating the circumstances of Lennington Small’s acquittal. It should be noted that Lennington Small lost a civil lawsuit and was forced to repay the state of Illinois $650,000. But he wasn’t impeached and—will wonders never cease—even won that second term in office.

Lennington Small died in 1936. His name was largely forgotten until his great grandson, Stephen Small, then 40, died after being buried alive in a botched kidnapping attempt in 1987.

The Small Newspaper Group began in 1913 with “The Daily Republican” in Kankakee (one of three newspapers in the town) and went on to acquire The Daily Times in Ottawa (1955); the LaPorte Herald-Argus (LaPorte, Indiana, 1964); the Daily Dispatch in Moline (1969); The Leader (Iowa Quad Cities) in 1978, (which has now ceased operations, although the SMG website does not note this); Star Publication weeklies in the south Chicago suburbs (1975-1995); SNG group prints 80,000 to 105,000 copies of “USA Today” in Kankakee (1983 to the present); “Family Weekly” magazine, which later became “USA Weekend”,  was sold to CBS in 1980; Rochester “Post-Bulletin” (1977), the largest afternoon daily in the state of Minnesota; “Times-Press” in Streator, IL (1980; current Daily Dispatch publisher Roger Ruthhart came to Moline from Streator); Palisadian Post in California (1981); The Rock Island Argus from the Potter family, “one of the state’s oldest continuously published newspapers” in Rock Island, IL (1995), which also ceased operations in the recent past; and, in 1969, brothers Len and Burrell divided the family’s holdings in print and broadcast properties, with Len taking the newspapers and Burrell inheriting such properties as WKAN,  in existence since 1947.

The SNG (Small Newspaper Group) website says of Governor Lennington Small, “The Governor is best-known for the 7,000 miles of hard roads he built in Illinois and for his support of the State Fair.”

Perhaps author Jim Ridings, who has written Len Small- Governors and Gangsters, a 342-page book about the “worst governor ever” would suggest other things for which Governor Small might be remembered, such as setting the bar so low that it took 90 years for someone (Rod Blagojevich) to lower it further.

SOURCES:  SNG (Small Newspaper Group) official website; “The Worst Illinois Governor?” by Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune, Wed., July 21, p. 21; “Len Small: Governors and Gangsters,” self-published by Jim Ridings (342 pp., 2009).