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Do We Know All In The Perez Matter? Doubt It

Helen Ubiñas

February 01, 2009

As much of a freak show as Illinois' former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is, at least that crook showed some creativity.

Trying to sell President Barack Obama's Senate seat, quoting Rudyard Kipling, comparing his impeachment to the attack on Pearl Harbor — all whacked, for sure. But inspired.

Now, abusing your power for a steam shower and some marble in Emperador Dark — fitting as that choice may be — that's just so Johnny Handout.

You remember Gov. "Johnny Handout" Rowland? If the allegations against Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez are true, the similarities are so remarkable that you have to wonder if, in addition to motivational speeches, Rowland may be offering some under the counter tips for pols looking to get theirs. (A refund is probably in order.)

Think about it. Five years ago, when we started to learn about all those free improvements to Rowland's lakefront cottage in Litchfield, it was just a hot tub, right? At least until it wasn't, and people started asking questions that prompted his wife, Patty, to ham-handedly try to pay a contractor years later. The guy was so surprised by the check, he didn't even know what to do with it.

Now it's Perez (or is it Slick Willie Nunez?) who was equally adamant his deeply discounted home improvements were paid in full until investigators pressed him and he pulled a Patty Rowland by belatedly trying to pay up. So far, that seems to have worked out just as brilliantly, which may explain Perez dragging his wife into his mess by insisting her illness caused his convenient memory lapse.

I'm no lawyer, but I think there's a term for that — consciousness of guilt.

Not that Perez's attorney will ever utter those words. Nope, Hubert Santos took great pains this week to claim this was all an "isolated incident."

Nice try, Hubie. But these affairs are almost never isolated.

Rowland's hot tub — and then the famous cabinets in the cottage that he said were off the shelf from Home Depot, until they weren't — was all just the first trace of rot.

It didn't take long before that little spot spread into the now-famous, pre-cooked contract with Rowland's buddies/benefactors, the New Britain-based Tomasso family, for the expensive and initially disastrous Connecticut Juvenile Training School. Once praised as the crown jewel of the state's juvenile justice system, it came to stand as a testament to his administration's corruption.

Soon there was nothing but rot left, a pay-to-play atmosphere where businessmen who gave Rowland free air travel and other goodies received hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of tax breaks.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Contractor Carlos Costa, who was doing millions of dollars of work for Hartford, told prosecutors he never expected Perez to pay because he considered free marble and labor the "cost of me doing business in the City."

And while we've yet to learn the extent of the rot in the current scandal, it's already seeped out of city hall and onto what was supposed to be El Jefe's own crown jewel — Park Street. Perez says he never cut Costa any breaks, but the feds say lax oversight on Costa's problem-plagued Park Street job is going to cost Hartford $767,000 in reimbursements.

Think that's the end of it? Doubt it. If we know anything for sure, it's that a hot tub is never just a hot tub.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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