-- Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland (R) announced his resignation Monday, as his three-term rule collapsed after revelations that he had accepted tens of thousands of dollars of gifts from state contractors and top aides.
In a five-minute resignation speech, Rowland declined to say why he was stepping down. But the reasons were clear. He faced impeachment proceedings in the legislature, he is under federal investigation and on Friday, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that he must testify before a state House committee investigating the graft allegations.
"Tonight is both a beginning and an end for me," said Rowland, who stood alongside his wife, Patty, on a garden patio outside the governor's residence. "Even in these difficult times, I realize how fortunate and blessed I truly am."
Rowland, 47, was the youngest mayor and congressman in the history of the state, and an unstoppable political force for much of his three terms as governor. Possessed of considerable political skills and husky good looks, the governor played a prominent role in the National Governors Association. He was often mentioned as a potential Cabinet member were President Bush to win a second term.
But for the past six months, Connecticut has been consumed by revelations about his acceptance of gifts, and his popularity eroded steadily. Rowland allowed major state contractors and gubernatorial aides to foot the bill for a new $14,000 kitchen, a cathedral ceiling and a $3,600 hot tub at his lakeside summer cottage in Litchfield County. These same friends and associates gave him thousands of dollars' worth of champagne, Cuban cigars and a Mustang convertible.
The House committee has been holding hearings in which a parade of witnesses over the past two weeks testified about the gifts. Other disclosures included word that a friend of Rowland's, a businessman with state contracts, had bought the governor's Washington condominium at an inflated price.
State leaders in both political parties acknowledged that a consensus was building for an impeachment vote. Rowland would have faced an impeachment trial in a state Senate in which a majority of lawmakers already had called for his resignation.
He said he will formally step down July 1. Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) will take Rowland's place, serving out a term that will end in January 2007.
Rowland's resignation will not put an end to his personal ordeal, as federal prosecutors continue their investigation. Had he appeared before the House impeachment committee, Rowland's testimony could have been used against him.
The governor's former deputy chief of staff has been sent to prison after pleading guilty to steering state contracts in exchange for gold coins, which the aide buried in his garden. And prosecutors reportedly have targeted an array of former officials and state contractors.
State legislative leaders said Monday that Rowland made the right decision to step down but took much too long. "It is probably inappropriate that he waited so long," House Speaker Moira Lyons (D) said.
Senate Minority Leader Louis C. DeLuca (R) said Rowland did a fine job but stumbled a bit. "Unfortunately, it ends like this, but he did a good job," DeLuca said. "Those people who are gloating, they haven't accepted that he got elected."
But Democrat Bill Curry, who lost to Rowland in the last election, implicated not just the governor but also Connecticut's political culture, in which ethical lapses are often shrugged off. Curry noted that the revelations about Rowland's misconduct took root not in the legislature policing state government but in the federal prosecutor's office and the media.
"For the last decade, we endured a government-supported crime wave," Curry said. "We were the Constitution State, and then we woke up one day and we were Louisiana with foliage."
State Democratic Chairman George Jepsen criticized Rowland for not apologizing to voters.
"Not only did he not apologize for his actions, he didn't apologize for the damage his actions have caused the state," Jepsen told reporters after the speech. "His speech was a porthole into his character."
On the streets of Hartford, the governor's resignation surprised no one. This governor's demise was a political death foretold in weeks of media revelations and committee hearings. The latest polls showed that about 70 percent of state residents favored his resignation and 57 percent were in favor of his impeachment.
"I'm shocked he wasted our time and money holding on this long," said Chris Lane, 43, a computer programmer. "He and his cronies thought we were really, really stupid."
Kevin Lajoie, a salesman, had much the same take. "Surprise? C'mon," he said. "The more you learned, the worse and deeper the muck got."
Still, seen from the perspective of several years ago, Rowland's fall was breathtaking in its speed. He had utterly dominated state politics, building a football stadium and leading the rehabilitation of downtown Hartford. He did not hesitate to bend labor leaders to his will. He brought much the same determination to his battle to stave off impeachment, speaking of his faith in God and rallying sympathetic groups to his banner.
He suggested that an impeachment trial could embarrass fellow politicians by exposing their own ethical lapses. And he refused a House demand for his testimony, appealing its subpoena to the state Supreme Court. But last week the court ruled against him and so began the endgame.
"The political problem for the governor is that he had to think about himself as a federal defendant rather than a sitting governor," said Arthur Paulson, a political science professor at Southern Connecticut State University. "If he pleaded the Fifth Amendment with the House committee, he would definitely be impeached. But if he testified, he could have perjured himself.
"His decision to resign didn't have a tinker's damn to do with the good of the state."
Special correspondent Michelle Garcia in New York contributed to this report.