by Jennifer Swift
Apr 10, 2014
11:48 PM
Connecticut Politics

State Republicans seek to distance party from ex-Gov. Rowland as Democrats pounce

As Connecticut Republicans filtered their way through the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Stamford Thursday night, so did the rumored news of ex-Gov. John G. Rowland’s indictment, announced by the Department of Justice right before the event began.

The news broke as staff of the hotel worked to finish pouring water for the nearly 800 guests who would attend the Republicans’ 36th annual Prescott Bush Awards Dinner.

While state Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. vowed the evening was the kick-off of a “Comeback for Connecticut,” the drama incurred by the news of another indictment against Rowland was not far from Republicans’ minds.

“While there may be great fascination in this story, the fact is John Rowland has no connection to the Connecticut Republican Party, nor has he for over 10 years,” Labriola said in a statement.

Ten years ago, Jeb Bush, keynote speaker at Thursday’s dinner, had attended the dinner as Rowland’s guest.

“The CT GOP bringing back John Rowland’s close friend, Jeb Bush, on the eve of more expected felony indictments for Rowland only reinforces the fact that the Connecticut Republican Party is still influenced by Rowland,” party chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said in a statement prior to news of the indictments.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s spokesman Andrew Doba said the governor hopes for a “quick resolution.”

“This is another sad chapter in a story that Connecticut knows all too well. Law enforcement should be commended for their diligence on this matter,” Doba said in the statement.

State Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said on Thrusday that the indictment, although expected, still was shocking.

Looney said the trajectory of Rowland’s political career represented a “dramatic rise and a dramatic fall.”

“He was a very very gifted politician and what has happened to him is a shocking cautionary note,” Looney said.

Rowland was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1980 at the age of 23, the same year Looney was sent to Hartford as a representative from New Haven.

He said he remembers Rowland as a very engaging personality who rose to congressman from the 5th District at the age of 26 and was nominated by his party for governor at age 33, although he lost in that contest in 1990 to independent candidate Lowell Weicker in a three-way race that included Democrat U.S. Rep. Bruce Morrison.

After winning the gubernatorial race at age of 37 in 1994, Rowland was the first to be elected to three four-year terms since the rules were changed in 1951.

“He was the political golden boy,” Looney said of Rowland, who threw it away in the first scandal, for which he served 10 months in prison in 2004 on corrpution charges, serving only half of his final gubernatorial term.

He now faces a maximum of 57 years on seven counts, including charges of falsifying records, making false statements to the FEC and illegal campaign donations.

Of the seven charges lobbed against Rowland, one involves Mark Greenberg’s previous bid for Congress. Greenberg, who is again running as a Republican in the district where Rowland allegedly worked for candidate Lisa-Wilson Foley and had his payments routed through Wilson-Foley’s husband’s business, was present at the dinner but declined to comment. After the event, Greenberg’s campaign spokesman Bill Evans said, “He’s confident the criminal justice system will run its course.”

“We are sensitive to the fact that this is part of an ongoing criminal investigation. At this point, Mark has offered all the information he knows as it relates to former governor John Rowland. He is confident in the U.S. attorney’s office to handle this matter appropriately,” Evans said in a later-released statement.

Greenberg has confirmed that Rowland approached him to work for his campaign and have funds routed through Greenberg’s nonprofit, but Greenberg refused the offer.

Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, also running for governor, said he foresees no ramifications on the Republican party as a result of Rowland’s latest alleged actions.

“I don’t think it’s going to have an impact on anybody but John Rowland,” he said.

Gubernatorial candidate Joe Visconti said Republicans had Given Rowland a second chance and he had disappointed them.

“John Rowland knew better. We’re going to need to close this chapter on John and have the party move forward. We forgave him once, a lot of people feel cheated because they forgave him once,” Visconti said. “Just being in the situation again, it opens up a lot of wounds some have healed, but a lot of people were just starting to trust him again. It’s as betrayal to the Republicans, but we need to move forward, and John needs to pay the piper.”

Morrison, who now works in Washington, D.C., as an immigration lawyer, called the indictment “sad.”

“I think it is unfortunate that John has so lost his way that this would happen to him again. The first time it was a tragedy for the him and the state. Now it appears that John has lost his ability to tell right from wrong. It’s sad,” Morrison said.

Looney said Rowland benefitted from certain political dynamics, particulary running as a Republican in the 1984 congressional race when President Ronald Reagan was seeking a second term and the party lever on voting machines still existed.

The Democratic majority leader, who hopes to be the state Senate president next year, said Rowland had more of a sense of urban issues than his fellow Republicans, having come from Waterbury.

Chris Healy, the former Connecticut Republican Party chairman, had no comment on the indictment Thursday night.

Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, have pleaded guilty to concealing $35,000 in payments to Rowland taken from campaign funds.

State Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said “no one wants to see anyone get in trouble.”

She wants to see the case “takes its course.”

“I hope things turn out all right for all the parties involved,” Klarides said.

State Republicans seek to distance party from ex-Gov. Rowland as Democrats pounce

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