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Embattled Conn.governor resigns

Facing possible impeachment over alleged corruption, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland announced his resignation Monday night.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gov. John G. Rowland announced his resignation Monday amid a months-long cascade of graft allegations, a federal investigation and a rapidly gathering drive to impeach him for accepting gifts from friends and businessmen.

"I acknowledge that my poor judgment has brought us here," Rowland said, standing on the back lawn of the governor's mansion, his wife, Patty, by his side.

Republican Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell will serve the rest of Rowland's term. The next gubernatorial election is in 2006. Rowland’s resignation will become effective July 1.

Rowland did not directly address the allegations against him but said he remained proud of his accomplishments.

“I hope there have been times when I made you all proud, or made you all smile or at least piqued your interest in this wonderful institution we call government,” he said.

Rowland, 47, a Republican easily re-elected to a third term in 2002, admitted accepting renovations at his lakeside cottage — including a hot tub and new heating system — and lying about it. Other gifts and favors soon came to light.

One longtime friend, a state contractor, bought the governor's Washington condominium at an inflated price through a straw buyer.

Rowland received cigars, champagne, a vintage Ford Mustang convertible, a canoe and free or discounted vacations from employees and friends — including some with state contracts. The FBI was even looking into whether Rowland skimmed money from low-stakes poker games he hosted.

For months, Rowland has insisted he never did anything in exchange for the gifts. But the drumbeat of allegations sent his approval ratings plummeting and led to demands for his resignation from Republicans and Democrats alike.

‘Many bad choices’
“The governor has chosen late in this journey to take the honorable road. John Rowland made many bad choices that led us to today's resignation,” said House Speaker Moira Lyons, a Democrat. “I am sad that such a gifted and talented leader chose a path of deception and ethical malaise for so long.”

“This has been a long and painful process, and with today’s announcement we can begin to move forward and heal the wounds this scandal has inflicted upon our state,” said GOP Sen. John Kissel.

The decision effectively ends what was once considered a remarkable political career. Rowland was elected to the state House at 23, and quickly became the boy wonder of Connecticut politics, using his charm to get elected to Congress at 27 and become governor at 37.

“It’s a sad ending to what had been a brilliant political career. It certainly takes an enormous weight off the shoulders of the committee and of the House of Representatives and for that matter the whole legislature,” said Rep. Arthur O’Neill, the Republican co-chairman of the state House Select Committee of Inquiry, which was weighing whether to impeach Rowland.

Committee may end hearings The committee was scheduled to begin its third week of hearings Monday but may now end those hearings, the other co-chairman said Monday.

“It does not make a lot of sense for the committee to do anything more,” said state Rep. John Wayne Fox, D-Stamford. “We still have an obligation under our resolution to report back to the House, but I don’t think it make any sense to continue. My opinion, we ought to stop today.”

The news comes several days after the state Supreme Court ruled that the legislative panel could compel the governor to testify.

Senate Minority Leader Louis DeLuca, a Republican, said he spoke with the governor shortly after news leaked about the resignation. He quoted Rowland as saying: “I think it’s reached the point that it’s the right thing to do.”

Dim prospects for political survival
The governor remained in seclusion most of the day at the governor’s residence in Hartford, fine-tuning his speech and receiving calls from supporters.

Dean Pagani, Rowland’s former chief of staff and longtime spokesman, said Rowland understood that few lawmakers would have been willing to vote against impeachment. “I don’t think there was any way he could have survived, especially in a legislative election year,” Pagani said.

Rowland was once the nation’s youngest governor — he was 37 when first elected in 1994 — and considered a rising star in the GOP. He is a former chairman of the Republican Governors Association and was rumored to be considered for several positions in the Bush administration.

But 2003 began badly for Rowland and rapidly descended into nightmare. In March, Rowland’s former deputy chief of staff, Lawrence Alibozek, pleaded guilty to federal charges he steered state business to certain contractors in exchange for gold and cash.

Embarrassing revelations
That plea — and the governor’s subsequent acknowledgment that a federal grand jury had subpoenaed stacks of documents relating to several major projects and a politically connected contractor — set the stage for a spring and summer of embarrassing revelations about discounted vacations he had taken at homes owned by people doing business with the state.

One of those people was William Tomasso, a principal in the contracting firm under scrutiny by the grand jury.

Rowland paid $9,000 to the state Ethics Commission to settle its probe of the vacation stays. Two months later he paid $6,000 to the state Elections Enforcement Commission to settle a complaint over charges he made to a state Republican Party credit card.

Rowland admitted no wrongdoing in either case. But in mid-December Rowland admitted he had lied about who paid for improvements to a one-story, lakeside cottage he purchased in 1997. Asked on Dec. 2 about who paid for the work, Rowland insisted he and his wife, Patricia, had taken out several loans to cover the bills.

Ten days later he issued a statement apologizing to the Capitol press corps and admitting friends, employees and some state contractors — including the Tomassos — had paid for renovations, including a new heating system, a hot tub, work on the kitchen, ceiling and deck.

Insists no favors in return
But he said those helping him got nothing in return. “I’m not going to sell my integrity or my 25 years of public service for a box of cigars. I mean, it’s silly to even think that,” he said, referring to a state contractor’s claim he gave Rowland boxes of Cuban cigars to help speed up payments to his electrical company.

Before being elected governor, Rowland had served three terms in Congress and two in the state House.

Only seven governors in U.S. history have been impeached and removed from office. The last was Arizona’s Evan Mecham, a conservative former car dealer whose campaign accepted a secret $350,000 loan from developers. A campaign finance charge was dismissed, but the unpopular political outsider was impeached in 1988 on an unrelated charge of trying to thwart an investigation into an alleged death threat made by a state official.