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John Rowland changed New London

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published February 19. 2014 4:00AM

There is little good news for the people of Connecticut amid reports that former Gov. John Rowland, who went to federal prison in 2005 on corruption charges, has hired a prominent criminal defense attorney in response to a new criminal investigation.

It's not that any of us should care much about the disgraced Republican governor's legacy.

In general, though, I think American voters like fallen politician redemption stories because it gives them comfort that maybe they weren't all wrong when they elected them in the first place.

Both Vincent "Buddy" Cianci from Rhode Island and Rowland are good examples of prison-serving former politicians who have successfully stayed in the public eye, both with popular radio programs.

But the sympathy factor for redemption stories probably wears thin among voters, and I doubt the public will find much more forgiveness for Rowland, if he gets ensnared in another scandal.

Just ask Anthony Weiner of New York about double-dip scandals.

John Rowland's legacy could not be much worse around New London anyway, where everyone still lives with an empty Fort Trumbull peninsula, scorched earth by eminent domain, a program made possible by millions of dollars from the Rowland administration.

As governor, Rowland liked building things, and clearly the Pfizer-dominated redevelopment of the New London waterfront was supposed to have a better, legacy-building ending.

The people of New London generally liked the Rowland plan for Fort Trumbull, especially the tens of millions of state dollars in environmental cleanup and infrastructure improvements, until the home-wrecking bulldozers started rolling.

"Years from now, this will be a case study in how to revive a community," Rowland said during a September 1998 groundbreaking ceremony in New London.

Turned out to be more like a case study in how not to do it.

By the time the fight against eminent domain turned ugly and became the court case Kelo v. the City of New London, Rowland's third term had begun to erupt in scandal.

The governor who was happy to tout his aim at urban renewal in New London became scarce around here, as the eminent domain lawsuit and his own corruption scandal rattled down parallel tracks.

I think people around here found it easier to attack local demons than to go to Hartford to stand in the Rowland-bashing line.

And maybe it was a testament to Rowland's political acumen - he was, after all, a rising young star in the national Republican party - that he began to steer clear of New London once the eminent domain sword was drawn.

It will be a curious footnote in New London history that a city long dominated by the Democratic party probably underwent some of its largest modern transformation under a Republican governor, good and bad.

Rowland cleaned up a polluted waterfront and helped lure a Fortune 500 company to one of Connecticut's neediest cities.

A Republican, he also financed a taking of private property by eminent domain that is scorned to this day.

I would just as soon, for everyone's sake, see him remain a one-scandal former governor, a radio talk show host.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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