In most places, the summers are slim pickins’ for state political junkies. And truth be told, except for the lively mayor’s race in Hartford, it’s pretty slow here in Connecticut as well — even with the party conventions, caucuses, and primaries.
But sometimes the summers are politically notable for what happened once upon a time and the lessons that can be learned. And 15 years ago last weekend, a political nomination set the stage for one of the most spectacular and disgraceful collapses in Connecticut political history. No, I’m not talking about former Gov. John G. Rowland. Johnny was a saint compared to Philip Giordano, the former mayor of Rowland’s hometown of Waterbury.
In July 2000, Giordano reached the apex of his miserable career when he accepted the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate at the party convention at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. When the event was over, Giordano was armed with a unanimous endorsement and was set to mount an underdog challenge to two-term incumbent Joe Lieberman. But something was strange about Giordano’s quest from the get-go.
Rowland did not attend the convention to endorse Giordano in person, insisting through state Republican Party Chairman Chris DePino that he and his family had already planned a mini-vacation that weekend. Asked earlier why Giordano would make a good senator, Rowland told a reporter, “I’ll let Mr. Giordano answer that.” That left the speaking duties at the convention to Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell, who gave a brief speech at the podium but would not appear on the stage with Giordano.
No one knew it at the time, but Lieberman was about to be tapped by Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore to be his running mate. Lieberman failed in his bid to become vice president but he trounced Giordano in the Senate race with 64 percent of the vote. As as much as I detest Lieberman as a politician, it’s now clear he did us all a favor by wiping up the floor with Waterbury’s despicable mayor.
About a year later, I was vacationing on Lake George and fiddling with the car radio when I heard the news that Giordano had been arrested by the FBI. Like everyone else who was familiar with graft and corruption in the Brass City — who could forget T. Frank Hayes, Mike Bergin and Joe Santopietro — I immediately assumed the feds had nabbed Giordano for taking payola.
Indeed, the FBI was probing City Hall for corruption. Agents had bugged the building and were eavesdropping on Giordano’s own office. But they soon became so horrified by what they had discovered that they essentially blew the cover on their own graft investigation.
Turns out Giordano had been trysting with a crack-addicted prostitute who was bringing her 10-year-old niece and eight-year-old daughter to the mayor’s office to perform sex acts on him. Even judging by the low standards to which we hold our elected officials, this one was way over the top. It even topped the Daily Beast’s list of political sex scandals.
Since raping little girls isn’t a federal crime, prosecutors brought him up on communications and civil rights charges. As Giordano continues to rot in a federal prison in Illinois while serving a 37-year sentence, he could not resist giving taxpayers a gift on the 14th anniversary of his conviction. The pale, gaunt, balding now-52-year-old Giordano appeared before a federal judge in Bridgeport complaining of inadequate legal representation and seeking a reduction of his sentence. What a joke. A man who stole the innocence of prepubescent girls wants his freedom back. Considering the astronomically high rate of recidivism on the part of pedophiles, I’d say 37 years is a stroll in the park.
But the whole sordid episode also has a personal significance for me. I was so appalled by Lieberman’s double-dealing in running for both vice president and senator at the same time that I wound up voting for Giordano.
I should have seen the proverbial handwriting on the wall. Giordano looked like a lonely man at that convention, perhaps because word of the federal corruption investigation had already leaked out to the powers-that-be. He was the skunk at his own garden party. If nothing else, the political lesson of the Giordano affair is an old one: better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
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