Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Gaffey, You Be Up

With the first two paragraphs of a column by Kevin Rennie that ran in the Hartford Courant on Sunday, we were off to the races. “Lust for power is merely ambition,” Rennie wrote. “Lust and power together, however, can make trouble. The question is whether that potent cocktail cost taxpayers $1 billion this year because of a secret relationship between a high-ranking legislator and a state university vice chancellor. While they were pushing the bonding package, they were bonding.”

The “lust” to which Rennie refers is the affection and high regard that State Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, chairman of the Education Committee and vice chairman of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, had for Jill Ferraiolo, associate vice chancellor for government relations and communications at the Connecticut State University System.

CSUS was created during the gubernatorial administration of Lowell Weicker, who pulled up his deep-rooted Connecticut stakes and moved to Virginia recently – some suggest because, among other reasons, he wanted to avoid a possible up tick in income taxes levied against rich folk in Connecticut. Weicker is primarily responsible for introducing Connecticut to its new income tax, and Democrats have been struggling for years after Weicker left office to introduce more progressivity (fairness?) into the tax structure. Translation: They mean to get money from millionaires like Weicker to pay for their spending excesses. They have been thwarted in this design by two moderate Republican governors, ex-Governor John Rowland who served some time in jail for peculation, and present Governor Jodi Rell. The general feeling is that Rell is a weak reed rather than a strong firewall, and Democrats are nothing if not persistent.

CSUS was created by Weicker, among other reasons, to provide a cushion for Bill Cibes, who ran for governor on an income tax ticket, was soundly defeated and managed to find a spot in the Weicker administration as the head of the Office of Policy Management. Shortly before the Weicker administration trailed off into irrelevance, Cibes moved into plush offices as Chancellor of CSUS. The cushion broke his fall from politics and saved his rather large posterior. In Connecticut, the relationship between the average politician and the average state worker political appointee is incestuous.

But when Rennie refers to “power” and “lust,” he does not mean to indicate back scratching political relationships of the Weicker, Cibes variety; he means real lust, not the lust for power, status and money.

Ferraiolo, an associate vice chancellor for government relations and communications whose principal responsibility is to lobby legislators on behalf of CSUS, and Gaffney “became allies,” according to a Courant story, in the quest for a billion dollars the legislature was considering providing to the state university system that includes Eastern, Central, Southern and Western. Unlike lobbyists in the private sector, Ferraiolo is a state employee.

Readers who enjoy Barbara Cartland novels will find a bit of steam in Rennie’s account:

June was not a good month for Ferraiolo. In June, Joseph Ferraiolo, married for 18 years, sued his wife for divorce, citing adultery, a pointed claim in an age when the vague "irreconcilable differences" suffices. The couple divorced in October. Their three young children live mostly with their dad under the divorce agreement. A highly unusual paragraph in it precludes the parties and their lawyers from discussing their grievances. It punishes any leaks. Husbands and wives don't usually worry about leaks, but politicians do.

“As the summer ended, Gaffey and Ferraiolo were living in a convoluted e-mail world, one that could have been written by Barbara Cartland with some Stephen King creeping in. In August, Ferraiolo oohs and aahs at a Gaffey favor for a mutual friend. He declares, "I move mountains for my friends." In September, brace yourself, she proclaims him a "god." "Alongside every god is a great goddess," reads his modest reply. News from Gaffey that he's had a call from an editor at The New York Times has Ferraiolo repeating in capitals that he is indeed a god. Another exchange finds Zeus offering bon mots in French. Power rarely improves the judgment of those who wield it

Gaffney, his ethical scruples awakened by press stories, sent a query to the state’s Ethics Commission, which promptly pronounced that he was not in disfavor. The code of ethics applies to lobbyists in the private sector, and Ferraiolo is a public employee.

President Pro Tem of the state senate, Don Williams, was trotted out to say that because Gaffey was not in violation of the code of ethics for public officials, an assertion that may be premature, the senate will not look into the matter any further.

Barbara Cartland over at the Courant thinks otherwise. Sex, power and glory have a Big-Mo of their own.

“Ferraiolo and Gaffey,” Rennie writes, “had better start gathering receipts for the state's ethics agency. Shortly after the bill was passed, the Senate Democrats requested an opinion from the Office of State Ethics on Gaffey's role in the legislation, but failed to ask about any benefits he may have derived from his relationship with Ferraiolo.

“Legislators who knew of the relationship but remained silent deceived their colleagues” as in:

What a wicked web we weave
When once we practice to deceive
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