Sunday, December 09, 2007

Gaffy's Billion-Dollar Girlfriend

By Kevin Rennie (Hartford Courant)

Lust for power is merely ambition. 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.Supporters and leaders of the Connecticut State University System wanted $1 billion to renovate and expand facilities at its four schools (Eastern, Central, Southern and Western). But they haven't spent years cultivating a large network of supporters the way the University of Connecticut has. CSUS faced a much bigger task.

State agencies and institutions hire people to represent them in other parts of the government. Bureaucratic veteran Jill Ferraiolo bats for CSUS as associate vice chancellor for government relations and communications. She's the legislative liaison for the central office, which oversees the four schools.State Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, is a chairman of the Education Committee and vice chairman of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee.Ferraiolo and Gaffey became allies in the quest for that billion. E-mails between the two show that their entanglement extended beyond the halls of government as the legislature shaped policies on CSUS.
State Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, a fiscal conservative and co-chairman of the Higher Education committee, resisted efforts to give $1 billion to CSUS without essential oversight. She opposed making the 10-year plan immune from the normal constraints of spending programs in a state with plenty of fiscal swings and roundabouts.Hartley infuriated Ferraiolo. In June, the associate vice chancellor expressed her contempt for Hartley in a presumptuous e-mail she forwarded to Gaffey (her "big boy" in a later e-mail). Hartley's aide had dared to make an inquiry of Southern Connecticut State University on behalf of some constituents, not something that would usually be shared by a Connecticut State University System staff member with another senator. But Gaffey and Ferraiolo shared more than a legislator and a bureaucrat usually do.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.Plans for a trip to Dubai in the spring appear amid the e-mailed political hackery and claims to divinity.
Meanwhile, Ferriaolo strayed far from her portfolio by helping Gaffey find ways to criticize Gov. M. Jodi Rell's refusal to join the Democrats in the annual bonding bacchanalia.
Considering the authority the governor exerts over the state university system, Ferraiolo became reckless in her job in order to help Gaffey. There's the whiff of undue influence here in conducting the public's business. Through this tumultuous year, Gaffey and Ferraiolo attended meetings, planned strategy and kept flogging that proposal for $1 billion — without telling their colleagues they were dating.
David G. Carter, chancellor of the Connecticut State University System, said the personal relationship wasn't disclosed to him until after the billion-dollar package passed. Don Williams, state Senate president pro tem, says he first heard the rumors on Oct. 30 — the day the big bonanza for CSUS passed the Senate. But he says "the governor, and legislative leaders from both parties and chambers had already agreed upon the total bond package which included the CSUS 2020 program." [Williams] said the relationship was not a conflict for Sen. Gaffey.The state ethics office says that "the Code does not bear on this situation because "the liaison is not a family member" and the senator didn't receive "any benefit" from the bill's passage.
This kind of relationship, as is recognized throughout our land, clouds judgment. People involved in such entanglements end up serving each other rather than their constituents.Hartley eventually forced constraints on the $1 billion present, angering her Democratic colleagues. She became the target of their wrath. As they bayed for Hartley's head, no one mentioned Gaffey's private interest in the bill. They're celebrating at the Connecticut State University System, but Gaffey and Ferraiolo should brace themselves for scrutiny.
The benefits bestowed by state employees on individual legislators are regulated. Ferraiolo and Gaffey 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.
The philosopher-comedian Joan Rivers often declared that a pretty face and other attributes could get a girl a lot of good jewelry. Even the worldly Miss Rivers would gasp at a prize of a billion dollars in state bonds instead of traditional gems.

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Blogger PoorGrrl said...

Hey little brother! Just stopping by to check up on you. Hope things are going well. Interesting post, too!

December 14, 2007 6:40 PM  
Blogger mccommas said...

A lazy post cut and pasted from the Hartford Commie. But people need to know about this issue.

December 15, 2007 6:56 AM  
Blogger PoorGrrl said...

The Hartford Commie? Ha! Ha!

December 16, 2007 9:45 AM  

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