After helping usher in the new public campaign finance system, Beth Rotman, the executive director of the landmark program, will be leaving at the end of the year.

The announcement came Wednesday morning at the State Elections Enforcement Commission, surprising many, including Rotman herself. She was speechless when State Elections Enforcement Commission Director Albert Lenge made the announcement because she hadn’t expected him to make her planned departure public so soon.

“I feel permanently indebted to Beth,” Lenge said. “We were complete sophomores, inexperienced when Beth arrived.”

He said the expertise she brought with her from her four years as deputy general counsel to New York City’s campaign finance program was invaluable during the program’s infancy.

Rotman is moving to Israel with her family in December because her partner got a job at Hebrew University.

Rotman assured the commission Wednesday morning that she will help develop a succession plan before her departure at the end of the year.

Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, who chaired the General Administration and Elections Commission when Rotman arrived in Connecticut, said her departure is a “tremendous loss to the program.”

“I don’t think we could have found a more capable director for the inaugural years of the program,” Caruso said Wednesday.

In addition to assuring there was transparency in the program, Caruso also commended Rotman’s defense of the program in court. Both Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley and Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura, who had been running for state comptroller, filed court challenges aimed at the validity and integrity of the program.

The state Supreme Court victory in the Foley case was one of Rotman’s proudest moments, she said Wednesday. The state Supreme Court victory validated the advice the commission had been giving, which was an “extraordinary moment,” she said. 

However, Rotman also said it was really important for her to steer the 2008 General Assembly campaigns through the inaugural process. She said the amount of participation in 2008 from candidates for the state legislature helped set the stage for 2010.

“I am extremely proud to have played a role in encouraging program participation by creating the infrastructure necessary to oversee and encourage candidate participation in a voluntary program while ensuring that the appropriate safeguards are in place to conduct the oversight necessary for a program that allocates public money,” Rotman said.

Lawmakers agreed.

“I don’t think there’s a better, more competent and dedicated public servant than Beth,” Caruso added.

Sen. Gayle Slossberg, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s GAE committee, echoed Caruso’s remarks.

“This is a serious loss to the Citizens’ Election Program,” Slossberg said. “She’s been at the helm since the very beginning and we’ll be hard-pressed to find someone to replace her.”

Rep. James Spallone, co-chairman of GAE, said Rotman has “left a mark.”

“She helped launch a landmark program and got us off to a good start. She’ll be missed,” Spallone said.

There may be critics of the program and most recently the reorganization of the State Elections Enforcement Commission by Lenge, but Rotman says it has nothing to do with her departure.

A few weeks ago, Lenge reorganized and consolidated the compliance and enforcement units, and in the process laid-off Joan Andrews, a 14-year veteran enforcement attorney with the agency. Andrews said in a phone interview Wednesday that the reorganization softened the agency’s approach to enforcement in favor of leniency for the Citizens’ Election Program and its participants. She said the enforcement and compliance units should remain separate because advice on compliance should not be given by the same unit that may prosecute the case.

“My partner was offered a wonderful opportunity to live and work in another country,” Rotman said earlier in the day Wednesday.