Conn. Voters Dismayed by Rowland Revelation

The holidays have given embattled Connecticut Gov. John Rowland (search) a brief respite from the recent criticism he has received over questionable gifts and a federal investigation into his administration, but constituents say the possibility remains that Rowland may have to resign.

"It’s an insult to the intelligence of the citizens of Connecticut," said Phil Pirog, a high school teacher in Bristol.

"Simply put, he lied and he cheated. There's no get out of jail free card here," said Todd Hougas, a newspaper photographer who resides in Newington. "I'm personally offended. When you elect someone to office, they should be held to a certain standard."

On Dec. 12, Rowland admitted that friends, former political appointees and contractors, including employees of The Tomasso Group (search), one of the state's largest contractors, paid for work on Rowland's Bantam Lake summer home. The labor ranged from cleaning gutters to installing a hot tub.

The confession came 10 days after the popular three-term governor insisted he paid for all of the work himself. He subsequently apologized for lying to the media, but said he had no plans to resign.

As part of a related federal corruption probe, some of those involved in the favors, including Tomasso Group principals, have been subpoenaed about questionable bidding practices at the state level.

State lawmakers have called for hearings, several Connecticut newspapers — including the largest, the Hartford Courant — have demanded his resignation and public opinion appears to be building against Rowland.

But not everyone is certain Rowland should step down. Olivia Lockart of Westport said she wants to make sure Rowland, a Republican, isn't a victim of a Democratic witch-hunt.

"He has been a very good governor," she said, "and my guess is this was not a case of deliberate corruption. He just doesn't seem to me to be that kind of a guy."

According to a recent University of Connecticut poll, 55 percent of residents surveyed said the governor should step down. A Quinnipiac University (search) poll of residents taken shortly after the cottage story broke showed 45 percent in favor of a resignation, 44 percent saying Rowland should stay and 11 percent undecided.

That same poll revealed that 73 percent of respondents said they believed Rowland is dishonest.

"The amount of money isn't great, but it's that he lied about it," said Pirog, who said he believes Rowland should resign. The total amount for the work done on Rowland's cottage is still unknown.

2003 has not been a banner year for the former businessman. Earlier this year, Rowland paid nearly $9,000 to settle an ethics probe over his use of vacation homes owned by state contractors. He also settled an state Elections Commission (search) probe into complaints he improperly charged $6,000 to the Republican Party credit card.

The settlement was the governor's second dealing with the ethics panel. In 1997, Rowland paid a $2,000 fine for accepting undervalued concert tickets. It was the first such ethics fine ever paid by a Connecticut governor.

In March of this year, Rowland's former deputy chief of staff, Lawrence Alibozek, pleaded guilty to accepting cash and gold in return for steering state contracts to certain companies. The governor's former chief of staff, Peter Ellef, is also under federal investigation and has been linked to brokering a questionable deal between with state and Enron Corp. (search), from which the state lost $220 million. Both men paid for some of the cottage improvements.

Theodore Ansen, former commissioner of public works, was forced to resign this year after it was revealed he had accepted $190,000 in free design work for his home from a state contractor. Two deputy commissioners of public works were recently transferred out of their offices after increased scrutiny of bidding practices in the department.

Meanwhile, former state treasurer Paul Silvester is facing jail time for pleading guilty to racketeering, conspiracy and money laundering, leading what many say is a growing parade of questionable characters marching all the way up to the governor's office.

"The cronyism is unbelievable," said Bristol resident Jason Dumont, who also would like to see Rowland resign. Dumont called Rowland "the laughing stock of the country."

The escapades have led to some of Rowland's Republican supporters in Congress wavering in their support of him.

After the Dec. 12 admission, Rowland personally assured U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., that the scandal went no further, Shays said. But less than a week later, the governor's office was forced to confirm to reporters that Rowland was involved in a real estate partnership in the late 1990s in which a paving firm belonging to one of the partners received $900,000 in state contracts since the venture was formed.

"He told me everything was out," said Shays, who along with Republican U.S. Reps. Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons, has recently expressed disappointment in recent developments.

"I'm not comfortable that all of the facts are out yet; I'm not comfortable with John's statement that this is everything," Shays said.

Some residents say they will stick by the governor — who easily won his last two re-elections despite the dominance of Democratic voters in the state — at least until the details of the supposed ethics violations are hashed out.

"I was terribly disappointed, I always liked him," said Edith Cameron of Westport, who thinks Rowland will ultimately weather the storm.

"In all honesty, I always thought that he's done a good job," said one state employee in Willimantic who did not want to be named. "But if I were a reporter, I would want to know how far this goes."