It never ceases to amaze me how Connecticut residents — and by extension the American people — maintain a remarkably high tolerance for discredited gadflies and ne’er-do-wells.
They say there’s no second act in politics, but we all know that’s not true. Earlier this month, one of the worst acts in politics, the Rev. Al Sharpton, traveled to Norwalk to stand up for a Bridgeport mother, Tanya McDowell, who faces larceny charges for enrolling her son illegally in a Norwalk elementary school.
No matter what you think of McDowell’s actions and the state’s case against her — and I happen to think it’s weak — surely there are better advocates for prosecutorial discretion than Sharpton, who lost a defamation suit filed by a Dutchess County, N.Y., prosecutor whom he had repeatedly accused, with the flimsiest of evidence, of participating in a 1987 gang rape of an African-American girl from Wappingers Falls. And that’s only one example of many in which Sharpton has acted irresponsibly and left damage in his wake.
While Sharpton’s foray into Connecticut — and the respect with which he was accorded — has left a bad taste in my mouth, hope springs eternal. Another political hack familiar to millions of Nutmeggers, former Gov. John G. Rowland, just might be getting his comeuppance.
After being released from prison on a corruption conviction in 2006, Rowland was soon offered a $95,000-a-year job by the Regional Chamber of Commerce as economic development coordinator for his native city of Waterbury. Last year, Rowland added another job as afternoon radio co-host on WTIC-AM 1080.
At the time of his hiring by the radio station, Rowland was quoted in the Waterbury Republican-American as saying (the link is now dead), “It should be a lot of fun and exciting. I’ll be able to continue promoting the city and give it statewide exposure.”
But the spin has failed on two counts. My guess is radio executives promptly told Rowland he shouldn’t consider his afternoon drive-time slot a marketing opportunity for the Brass City. Secondly, taxpayers, who fund about three-quarters of his salary at the chamber, started wondering why they were paying Rowland full-time wages when he needed to leave the office every day after lunch.
The result is that a budget committee on the city’s board of aldermen has voted to de-fund Rowland’s position. Even the Republican-American editorial page, which has long been an apologist for Waterbury’s disgraced native son, thinks the city isn’t getting its money’s worth.
While noting that Rowland’s defenders insist he’s been an effective spokesman for the city, the paper concedes that “What they can’t do is point to any specific business or industry that is here solely, or even partly, because of Mr. Rowland’s efforts.” The editorial then suggests “part-time wages for part-time work.”
Back at WTIC, there is the matter of on-the-air credibility. As you would expect, Rowland speaks knowledgeably about state budget issues. But whenever he bloviates on the $1.6 billion in concessions Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is pursuing with state employee labor unions, I cringe. And I’m not alone. Wasn’t it the Rowland administration that negotiated the unsustainable 20-year labor benefits agreement that helped to put us in this bind in the first place?
And now comes word that the leading candidate to replace Chris Healy as head the Republican State Central Committee, former state Sen. William Aniskovich, has confessed to what Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie characterized as “sexual escapades while in the General Assembly … [that] would make Anthony Weiner blush.”
Far more troubling, however, was that while in the General Assembly, Aniskovich headed the Stonington Institute, a mental health non-profit that enjoyed lucrative contracts with the state. Meanwhile, Aniskovich’s wife was working in the administration of Rowland, to whom Aniskovich remained loyal until the governor was hounded out of office in 2004. It was, as Rennie sees it, “a pungent stew that wreaked of entitlement and advantage.”
In his interview with Rennie, Aniskovich insisted that Stonington no longer had state contracts. Smelling a rat, Rennie did some digging and discovered that as of last month, Stonington did indeed have two state contracts. So in addition to being a serial adulterer — and maybe even worse — the ethically challenged Aniskovich lied to Rennie and his thousands of readers.
I know it has been said that we Nutmeggers are a patient and forgiving lot. But we’re also The Land of Steady Habits, presumably an allusion to the strict morals of our residents — a supreme irony in light of our sordid history of political corruption. So why do we treat such men as if they belong in polite company?
Perhaps it’s because if we barred every crooked public figure from the state, there wouldn’t be anyone left to govern us — or entertain us.
Editor’s Note: Since this column was written Aniskovich has withdrawn his name from consideration.
Terry Cowgill blogs at terrycowgill.blogspot.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. He is host of Conversations with Terry Cowgill, an hour-long monthly interview program on CATV6 on Comcast’s northwest Connecticut system.