Conn. weighs ethics reform after Rowland

After the Friday sentencing of former Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland on corruption charges, officials in both the state and the city governments said they feel it is time for Connecticut to commit to ethics reform.

Rowland, 47, is set to serve one year of jail time and four months of house arrest, and will also pay $82,000 in fines and $35,000 in back taxes on gifts he received while in office. The sentence is the capstone of an inquiry into Rowland’s political behavior that has been ongoing since the state legislature formed a commission to investigate the then-governor in 2003.

Rowland was the youngest governor in Connecticut’s history when elected to his first of three gubernatorial terms in 1995, and his trial for corruption has shaken the state’s politics and its citizenry.

“Governor [Jodi] Rell has said that the John Rowland that stood in the New Haven courtroom on Friday is not the John Rowland that she thought she knew,” said Adam Liegeot ’94, a spokesman for Rell, who took office after Rowland resigned last July. “He is not the man the people of Connecticut thought they knew when they elected him governor three times.”

Rowland pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to steal honest services on Dec. 23, 2004, for accepting around $107,000 in gifts, including chartered jet flights and renovations to his cottage home. The one-year sentence is much lighter than the 30 to 37 months originally sought by the U.S. Attorney’s office, but William F. Dow III ’63, Rowland’s attorney, said he felt Connecticut U.S. District Judge Peter Dorsey properly considered the many facets of the case before making his decision.

“[Judge Dorsey] was a former prosecutor, and yet he is known for his independence and ability to understand the human elements involved in cases that come before his court,” Dow said. “He applied those strengths in this case and saw behind the public portrayal, or the media portrayal, of John Rowland, which for the last year and a half to two years has been completely negative.”

While the case itself is now closed, many state politicians said the underlying issues raised by Rowland’s corruption still need to be addressed.

“I hope it guides our politics in that we continue to move towards real ethics and campaign finance reform,” said Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, a Democrat. “It’s important to remember that this is not just a bad guy — it’s more than one individual’s behavior. It’s representative of a system that tends to reward that behavior.”

According to Liegeot, addressing the systemic problems that allow corrupt politicians to flourish is one of Rell’s priorities.

“Since day one, in July, when Governor Rell took the oath of office, she took a pledge to restore faith, trust and integrity to state government, and with the first executive order that she issued, she set the state on a path of aggressive ethics reform,” Liegeot said. “Her ethics plan, which is going to be before the legislature this session, is comprehensive – she wants other states to look at Connecticut and say, ‘Now, that’s a model of integrity in government.'”

Democrats are unlikely to let the issues raised by Rowland’s case fall by the wayside. Shonu Gandhi ’03, campaign manager for New Haven mayor and gubernatorial candidate John DeStefano, Jr., said public accountability and integrity will be important and contested issues in the upcoming election.

“The mayor has supported public financing of elections for a long time, and he thinks that it’s important to keep elections and elected officials accountable to their constituents,” Gandhi said. “That’s something that’s important to him and is going to be important in this campaign.”

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