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Rowland's Portrait Should Be Removed

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 18:08

To parody William Shakespeare: To hang or not to hang? That is the question. In the Connecticut State Library, portraits of former governors are hung as the library has been trying "to collect a portrait of each governor since the 19th century."

Former governor and current convict John Rowland was no exception as he had a 1996 portrait of himself hung in what was, to say the least, a quiet ceremony. It was a quiet ceremony because basically no one but the press showed up. This sparse gathering shouldn't be much of a surprise, considering Rowland resigned from office in disgrace and was later convicted "on a felony conspiracy charge for accepting gifts from state contractors and failing to pay taxes on them."

The 1996 portrait, painted by Norwich artist Robert H. Sibold, was removed by the Department of Environmental Protection from the Eolia mansion at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford after Rowland left office.

No new painting had been commissioned because "[t]he ill will that followed Rowland out of office persisted in the debate over his portrait." According to an Associated Press article that appeared on wfsb.com, "[n]o one approached state officials about commissioning a portrait and state politicians showed little interest in spending tax money on a painting."

State Librarian Kendall Wiggin defended the decision to hang the 1996 Rowland portrait because "[t]he portraits allow visitors to see artistic impressions of Connecticut's governors." Wiggin said that the library was "not a place where we're giving any statement as to how significant a governor was or wasn't." He added: "There are governors who had much greater significance than other governors. That's not our choice."

It is understandable and frankly reasonable that the State Library would want to try to collect portraits for the governors that have served the state of Connecticut. I, as a history buff, can appreciate what the State Library is trying to do. Having artists do lifelike portraits of the former leaders of Connecticut is a great way to chronicle the history of the most powerful position in the state government.

There is a problem with this, however, in the case of Rowland. Rowland was convicted of a felony. Not only was Rowland convicted of a felony, he-not unlike many other corrupt politicians at all levels from days past-stonewalled and lied to not only the press, but the Connecticut public as well. The persistent investigative reporting of Connecticut's newspapers uncovered the lies of the former governor, and that in turn helped lead to his resignation and subsequent conviction. That fact seemed to be lost on former First Lady Deborah Rowland, who read a blasphemous and arrogant parody of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" that only made the situation for her husband even worse.

Rowland's portrait, whether it's the 1996 version or a newly commissioned one, should not be hung in a public setting. Not only that, there is absolutely no way that the public should pay for said portrait. The AP article on wfsb.com said "former governors seek state and private funding for their portraits, which hang in a large, ornate room inside the State Library building." The article said former governors also organize unveiling ceremonies. Though it is not known who paid for the 1996 portrait of Rowland, whoever did shelled out a ton of money, as "[e]stimates range from $20,000 to $40,000 for a commissioned portrait." Though this portrait has already been painted and paid for by someone, the hanging of a convict's portrait-that was possibly paid for by Connecticut taxpayers-should raise an alarm or two. No Connecticut citizen in the future, in their right mind, should want to help pay for a portrait of a convict to be hung in a public building.

In a great piece of unbiased journalism, Tom Breen of the Manchester Journal-Inquirer pointed out that the portrait of former Lt. Gov. T. Frank Hayes, ironically also "convicted of corruption charges," hangs "above a computer printer in the Democratic Senate caucus at the state Capitol." Nothing like a portrait of a convict hanging in your party's office to make your criticism of the other party's corrupt politician look shallow. One "quasi-personal friend" of Rowland-and Republican-named Joseph Gallo, described in a Nov. 24 Hartford Courant article as "the only person with a political pedigree at the unveiling," said that Rowland "reduced crime in the 1990s." Gallo added that Rowland's record on crime reduction shouldn't be minimized.

This is ridiculous, considering that while he reduced crime, Rowland just happened to commit a few of his own. How ironic. The bottom line is that when any politician has been convicted of a crime-and at the same time, denied, deceived and conned in the way that Rowland did-that politician's portrait should not hang in a public building such as the State Library. And if it's an old portrait, that one should be taken down too. These people shouldn't be honored for their achievements when they have also cheated the people they work for.

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