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Resignation: Rowland Remains Unapologetic
Gov. John G. Rowland announced his resignation Monday in a defiantly upbeat speech, proclaiming his love of family and public service and ignoring the threats of impeachment and indictment.
Rowland, 47, the state's 86th governor and its first to resign in the face of an impeachment inquiry, said he will step down at noon July 1, handing over an office in turmoil to Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Rowland offered no explanation for his resignation or its timing in a five-minute, 45-second speech delivered at 6 p.m. and broadcast live on television from a garden outside the Executive Residence in Hartford.
He never mentioned being the subject of a federal criminal investigation into bid-rigging in his administration, nor did he refer to the impeachment hearings over the past two weeks that documented his acceptance of gifts and favors from state contractors and a circle of close aides.
The only nod to the personal and political crisis that had paralyzed his ninth year as governor was a line absent from the three-page text.
``I acknowledge that my poor judgment has brought us here,'' Rowland said.
News of Rowland's intention to resign broke Monday morning after his aides notified Connecticut's television stations that the governor wanted live coverage of a speech he planned to deliver that evening. WTNH-TV, Channel 8, was first to broadcast the news.
He made his decision Saturday afternoon during a two-hour meeting with five key people: his wife, Patricia; his chief of staff, Brian Mattiello; his budget chief, Marc S. Ryan; the counsel to his office, Ross Garber; and his personal lawyer, William F. Dow III.
On Friday, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to reject his claim that the House impeachment committee had no authority to compel his testimony. The decision left him with three bad options: defy the legislature; assert a Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination; or testify, knowing that FBI agents and the U.S. attorney's office would be trying to use the testimony against him.
Several sources who consulted with Rowland, who spoke on the condition they not be named, said no one factor drove the timing of the decision. Rowland told staff, the sources said, that even had he survived impeachment, he could never again govern with authority.
He called a small circle of friends Sunday and informed them of his plans. He asked Rell to meet him Monday morning at the residence, but he did not explain why until she arrived at the Georgian Colonial mansion at 990 Prospect Ave. Rowland's staff and commissioners, along with a few friends, began arriving at the residence late Monday afternoon for an invitation-only reception. At a gathering described as somber, yet upbeat, Rowland thanked them for their support.
At 6 p.m., he and his wife made an entrance through French doors onto a garden patio, where his staff and family silently waited on folding chairs. The only sound was the soft music of songbirds.
On a comfortable night that marked the change of a season, Rowland quickly set about to announce the coming change of government.
``As you know, Patty and I have made a decision that we believe will not only affect our family but certainly will affect the state of Connecticut,'' he said. ``The months leading to this decision have been difficult for all of us.''
He offered the terse acknowledgement of his ``poor judgment,'' a line that one top aide said the governor always intended to deliver, but simply declined to include it in his prepared text. Then he confirmed that his remarkable career would end in nine days.
``Effective at noon on July 1st, I will officially step down as governor and pass this honor on to Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell, who is a very fine and a very capable and experienced public servant,'' Rowland said. ``She shares many of the hopes and many of the dreams that brought this administration to a third term, and I know you will work with her during this transition.''
Rell, who will become Connecticut's second woman governor, finishing the remaining 2 1/2 years of Rowland's term, was not present.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the governor and his family," Rell said in a statement released by her office. "He pledged his full cooperation in ensuring a smooth and seamless transition."
Also absent was Senate President Pro Tem Kevin B. Sullivan, D- West Hartford, who will become lieutenant governor. As the top-ranking member of the Senate, Sullivan was next in the order of gubernatorial succession.
Sen. Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Danielson, is expected to succeed Sullivan.
No member of the House of Representatives, which voted unanimously Jan. 26 to create the select committee of inquiry to investigate Rowland, was in attendance.
The only members of the Senate, which would have sat in judgment on Rowland had the House impeached him, to attend were Senate Minority Leader Louis C. DeLuca, R-Woodbury, and his deputy, William A. Aniskovich of Branford.
Rowland's two daughters sat in the front row. At one point in his speech, he looked at them.
The Republican governor praised his wife, a high school flame whom he married after divorcing his first wife. Two transactions involving the current first lady -- a $15,000 speaker's fee and a $41,000 loan to subsidize publication of her children's book -- were part of the impeachment inquiry.
``Those of you who have had the privilege to know my wife will understand why she is the love of my life,'' he said. ``She has represented the office of first lady with grace and dignity. She has stood by my side with unfailing faith and love, and I am proud of the good will and good works she has brought to our citizens.''
Like her husband, the first lady was composed. She stared at him, smiling tightly.
``It was sad, it was mournful. It was depressing, it was breathtaking,'' Public Safety Commissioner Arthur Spada said of the scene. ``He was the real warrior in that mansion this afternoon. He apologized to his commissioners.''
On a historic day, Rowland's resignation speech prompted a surreal scene outside the governor's mansion: satellite television trucks blocked the street and a news helicopter flew overhead.
Inside, Rowland spoke for more than 20 minutes to about 60 commissioners, close aides, and family members, including Arthur Diedrick, who had testified recently during the impeachment hearings.
The crowd ranged from political people, such as former state GOP Chairman John Mastropietro, to longtime aides such as Jo McKenzie, who testified at the impeachment hearings by video deposition.
``It was very solemn, dignified,'' Spada said. ``It was the governor who wore the biggest smile.''
Aniskovich left the mansion with his wife, Jennifer, who was recently appointed by Rowland as a commissioner.
``This is the saddest moment of anything I've ever experienced in politics,'' said Sen. Aniskovich, one of four Republican senators who did not join their colleagues in calling for Rowland's resignation. ``I can't imagine anything sadder than this. ... This must have been taking a terrible toll on his kids and on his wife.''
DeLuca said that Rowland asked everyone present to avoid blaming others for his troubles.
``He said, `This is not the time to be blaming people for what transpired,''' DeLuca said.
Rowland's chief of staff, Mattiello, described the governor's performance as ``vintage Rowland'' in showing strength at a difficult moment.
``He had a very specific message to share with the individuals there, and I would say, `mission accomplished,''' Mattiello said. ``This is a person who is successful because he always fought for what he believed in.''
Ryan, one of Rowland's closest advisers, said Rowland showed ``grace under fire'' at a difficult moment that he described as ``somber, but emotional'' for the close friends who had gathered.
``I think he will have a positive legacy when people go back and reflect on it, despite some of the issues we're dealing with now,'' Ryan said. ``It was a somber occasion, but he brought us all up. It was a way for us to reflect on the accomplishments'' of the past 10 years.
Others were not so kind. Democratic State Chairman George Jepsen found Rowland's failure to acknowledge any wrongdoing, any reason for the resignation, to be ``surreal.''
``I think the speech is a porthole into his character,'' Jepsen said. ``He continues to view himself as a victim.''
``That was a speech that would have more appropriately have been given in January of 2007 after the successful completion of a third term,'' said Roy Occhiogrosso, a longtime Democratic political operative and critic of Rowland. ``It's not the speech he should have given while resigning in disgrace. He gave no rationale for why he was resigning, and took no responsibility for his actions.''
House Minority Leader Robert M. Ward, R- North Branford, who was not invited, said the resignation was appropriate.
``If he did not provide a public honest explanation for all the facts revealed, then impeachment was likely,'' Ward said.
The bipartisan impeachment committee, which had been scheduled to hear testimony Monday about Rowland's dealings with two major state contractors, William and Michael Tomasso, suspended its work.
Its chairmen, Republican Arthur J. O'Neill of Southbury and Democrat John Wayne Fox of Stamford, said the committee will fulfill its original charge by filing a report with the House of its findings by June 30.
Sullivan, who is about to become lieutenant governor, said he was caught off guard by the timing of Rowland's resignation.
``I think many of us were sort of surprised at the speed with which this all came about,'' Sullivan said. ``Jodi Rell will tell you she was equally surprised.''
Rowland or his aides gave no hint of what awaits the governor on July 1, when he gives up his official residence. He has no other home, other than a cottage on Bantam Lake whose renovations by contractors and aides helped prompt the impeachment inquiry.
With a federal investigation continuing, his chances for outside employment seem dim at the moment.
``If I were a corporate headhunter, he would not be the first person I would call,'' Occhiogrosso said. ``Wherever he goes, he will attract a whole ton of negative attention, which no employer would want.''
But Dean Pagani, Rowland's former chief of staff and longtime aide, rejected that notion, saying that Rowland has many friends in Washington who could help him.
``I think he'll do fine, once he gets over this,'' Pagani said outside the state Capitol. ``Tomorrow morning, he's going to wake up and say, `What's next?'''
For middle-of-the road Democrats, who often voted with Rowland on various issues, it was a sad day.
Rep. Stephen Dargan, a moderate Democrat from West Haven, never called upon Rowland to resign and often tried to work behind the scenes with Rowland to craft moderate, bipartisan solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
``It's probably the saddest day in our political history to have a governor resign,'' Dargan said. ``Some may say, `We got rid of the bum,' but I don't feel that way. It's a sad day to be an elected official in the state.''
DeLuca talked with Rowland mid-morning Monday, after the governor had met at the mansion with Rell.
``He seems to be, I guess you would say, relieved,'' DeLuca, a close personal friend of Rowland, said. ``He's saddened. He's hurt, but he understands and knows he's gotta do what he's gotta do.
``There's no question it was his actions and his lies to the press early on that brought on this investigation,'' DeLuca said. ``It was all self-inflicted.''
Rep. James W. Abrams, D- Meriden, a member of the impeachment panel, said he did not mind that Rowland had put the panel and the state through the costly and wrenching process of an impeachment inquiry.
Abrams harkened back to President Nixon's resignation in 1974, which came close on the heels of an adverse U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Connecticut's Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Friday that the subpoena served on Rowland by the impeachment panel was valid and did not violate constitutional guarantees of separation of powers.
``When [lawyers for Rowland] said they were considering their options over the weekend, it was eerily familiar,'' Abrams said. ``He could take the Fifth [Amendment], testify or ignore the subpoena, and I don't think any of those options are things he wanted to do.''
Courant Staff Writers Lynne Tuohy and Jon Lender contributed to this report. It also includes material from a pool report filed from the executive residence by the Associated Press.