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Conn. Governor Feeling The Heat

Connecticut Gov. John Rowland — once considered a rising star in Republican politics — is facing mounting ethics questions over his personal connections to firms that do business with the state.

Rowland, 56, apologized this weekend for incorrectly stating earlier this month that he had not accepted free work on a cottage he owns with his wife.

In fact, the governor said, he did received such work from firms that do business with the state and from aides. Some of the givers are subjects of a federal investigation, reports The New York Times.

On Thursday, in emerged that shortly after taking office, Rowland joined an investment group in which a partner was a contractor who has been awarded $1.3 million in state work during Rowland's term.

Watchdog groups told The Times that it was strange for a public official to enter into a new financial activity while in office. Most officeholders with substantial assets distance themselves from business activities while in power. However, it does not appear that Rowland's investment violates state law.

The investment group bought property near the governor's hometown, Waterbury, and resold it for a profit.

Rowland told The Times he made $60,000 on a $7,200 investment with the consortium — the smallest investment of all partners.

He also failed to sign a document for a loan taken out by the investment group, suggesting his partners took more of a financial risk than he did.

Rowland had disclosed his participation in the investment group, First Development, in his financial disclosure forms, but the names of his partners only emerged recently.

One of the partners was Anthony Cocchiola, who runs Cocchiola Paving Inc. Since Rowland entered office, the firm has been awarded $1.3 million in contract, including one for work at the State Capitol complex.

Rowland, in a statement, said he "had nothing whatsoever to do with that company obtaining any of those contracts." It was unclear whether the firm had done work for the state before Rowland became governor, The Times reported.

In 1997, Cocchiola Paving transported soil to Rowland's cottage. The work was valued at $2,000 but was unpaid until questions about Rowland's gifts emerged this year.

On Wednesday, Rowland apologized to reporters and the public for misleading them about gifts he had received, like work on the cottage's ceiling and gutters. Earlier this month, Rowland denied getting any such gifts.

Shortly after Rowland's passionate apology, his wife, Patricia, went the opposite route, reciting for the crowd a sarcastic version of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," where she defended her husband and attacked the media.

"The thirst and hunger for the day's biggest story has earned them black coal for their ill-gotten glory," she said about the press.

On Thursday, the state announced it was canceling a $37 million state contract that had been awarded to one of the firms that performed work at the governor's cottage.

The scandal marks a low point for the governor, who traces his family's lineage in Connecticut back 200 years. Rowland first entered politics at 23, winning election to the state legislature. Four years later, voters sent him to Congress for the first of three terms.

Rowland lost a gubernatorial bid in 1990, but was elected in 1994, and reelected in 1998 and 2002 by comfortable margins; he netted 56 percent of the vote in the last race.

If he completes his term, he will be the longest serving Connecticut governor since Colonial times, according to a biography on the website of the National Governor's Association.

A Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday showed that 44 percent of Connecticut voters thought he should resign in light of the scandal. Rowland, however, said he intended to finish out the final three years of his term.

Thursday's Hartford Courant featured an editorial titled "Mr. Rowland Plays For Time," in which it compared some of Rowland's statements on the controversy to President Nixon's remark that he was "not a crook."

The Courant wrote that Rowland's "resolve to continue to the contrary, the governor is in deep trouble with the public."

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