On Inauguration Day, The Promise, And The Failings, Of Politics

All eyes Wednesday were on the inauguration of Connecticut's 88th governor, Dan Malloy.

There was pomp. There was circumstance. There was all the optimism and good cheer that comes with the beginning of a new political era.

But if you wanted a more telling and accurate story of the state of politics in Connecticut, you would have found it hours before the day's festivities began — in a small Hartford courtroom where a veteran lawmaker was muttering guilty six times under his breath.

Wednesday morning, Sen. Thomas Gaffey pleaded guilty to double-dipping — billing both the state and his political action committee — for trips to conferences throughout the country. Sometimes, accompanied by his girlfriend.

On the same day that Gaffey was supposed to be sworn in to office, he was instead offering a cover-all-bases apology that sounded a lot like others we've heard from fallen lawmakers.

"I apologize to the court, I apologize to my family, my community, my district and the state of Connecticut," Gaffey said in court shortly after resigning his seat. "I take full responsibility for these mistakes."

Judge Julia Dewey, who gave Gaffey a six-month suspended sentence and 100 hours of community service, was polite, even kind to Gaffey, whose son committed suicide in 2009.

But she also sternly reminded Gaffey that he had humiliated himself and victimized the state and his constituents.

"People don't trust politicians," she told a subdued Gaffey.

The question, she added, was "why?" Why throw away so much for so little?

It's actually an easy question to answer, and we can start with the brotherhood of disgraced politicians that Gaffey now joins.

Gov. John Rowland.

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez.

Senate Minority Leader Lou DeLuca.

Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim.

It's arrogance, it's entitlement. It's pathetic when you consider all the goodwill that was being thrown Malloy's way Wednesday, and all the opportunities politicians are given to change people's lives and make a positive mark on the world around them.

And yet over and over again, too many throw it away — and for what? A few free trips, some extra money and, of course, those perennial home renovations.

In his first speech to the General Assembly, Malloy referred to the crossroads at which the state now stands.

"Today marks quite a bit more than the singular act of a transition from one gubernatorial administration to another,'' he said. "It is a demarcation between where we have been and where we are going, about remembering who we are and what we are capable of when it counts the most."

Those are good words, the right words for a celebratory and optimistic inauguration day.

But now, it's time to prove it. And Malloy can start by setting an example as a politician who uses his power to benefit the people and state he's now leading.

Helen Ubinas' column appears on Thursdays and Sundays. Read her blog, Notes From Hel, at courant.com/helen and follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NotesFromHeL.

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