Friday, July 2, 2010

Another Former Jailed Politician is on Radio and His Sports Background

Another Former Jailed Politician is on Radio and His Sports Background

By Evan Weiner

July 2, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) --John Rowland, the Connecticut Governor who would not play ball with Hartford Whalers owner Peter Karmanos in 1997 when Karmanos was looking for a new Hartford arena even though Karmanos was going to open up a branch of his Compuware business in the state as part of a deal, is going back to public life guest hosting a radio show on WTIC in Hartford. Rowland is just the latest of disgraced politicians who is remaking an image thanks to the lack of standards in radio and on cable TV by programmers who think confrontation is good radio or good cable TV instead of informing the masses. You see John Rowland did 10-months jail time after resigning as governor for trading political access for vacations and repairs to his lakeside cottage in 2004.

Rowland and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer are back with Spitzer landing a show on CNN. It should come as no surprise that radio and cable TV news continue to sink to deplorable depths by hiring people who you would not want as a guest in your living room. Former Providence Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci hosts a radio show on WPRO in the town and got his job shortly after being released from jail in 2007. Cianci did more than four years in prison on a federal corruption conviction.

The list of miscreants that takes up space on public airwaves like radio stations and on cable TV is long and rather seedy. Beck and Limbaugh are just two names on that list who have had brushes with drug abuse. But they are merely entertainers along with the rest of them. That is the Don Imus line---Imus is also a recovering drug addict.

But this is about Rowland and his sports decisions. Karmanos bought the team in 1994 and began asking the city and Governor Rowland about the possibility of getting a new building. Hartford was never seen as a great hockey town and the Boston Bruins ownership never relished having the hockey team close to the Boston market. The state would not spend about $150 million on a new place and Karmanos bought a get out of Hartford card for some $20 million. Karmanos was on record that municipalities should not subsidize arenas for team looking for a new building in the mid-1990s, it was all the rage. Mayors could not wait to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars to build a facility and then give the building away to a team owner for next to nothing. The 1986 Tax Act capped the revenues taken in by a facility to pay down the debt at the building at eight cents on a dollar. A good owner with sharp lawyers could come out with 92 cents on the dollar after negotiations. Stadium and arena building took off after 1986. Who could blame a sports team owner? Politicians were genuflecting in front of them with bags of money and sweetheart leases. Rowland let the Whalers go because he had what he thought was another big fish on the line.

The New England Patriots of the National Football League.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft needed a new stadium as his built-on-the-cheap Foxboro stadium was about 25 years old at the time and Kraft was very interested in Hartford. Well, maybe Hartford as a form of leverage so he could get a better deal in Massachusetts. In 1998, Rowland made his bid to Kraft for the Patriots. After he balked at spending $150 million or so on a new arena that would be paid off by Connecticut taxpayers, Rowland had a plan to bring the NFL to Hartford. He proposed building a $375 million stadium which would have been surrounded by a hotel and a convention center.

Kraft accepted the deal on November 19, 1998.

Rowland bought into the notion that was popular in the 1990s that a stadium would spur economic growth and there was no city in Connecticut that needed economic growth more than Hartford, well maybe Hartford was a close second to Bridgeport which was teetering on bankruptcy or New Haven. One of the reasons that the National Hockey League was failing in Hartford was lack of economic growth. Connecticut's insurance companies were laying off workers, the manufacturing base was faltering and there were defense department cuts.

Rowland also trotted out the old and trite axiom that a team would bring community spirit.

By April 30, 1999, all of Rowland’s football dreams were shattered. Kraft got a $70 million subsidy from Massachusetts lawmakers to build a new stadium in Foxboro and pulled out of the Hartford deal. Kraft's people said the Hartford site was a toxic dump and that the stadium would not be opened until 2002 or 2003 and that was too long a wait. The National Football League wanted to stay in the Boston area. Hartford was not Boston and at the end of the day, Kraft got what he wanted in Foxboro and Rowland lost yet another sports franchise.

Rowland did get the Adriaen’s Landing project on the Connecticut River done. Instead of a football stadium for the NFL, there is a convention center and hotel on the grounds. A 40,000 seat football stadium was built in East Hartford on a 75 acre tract that used to serve as an airfield for Pratt and Whitney. The venue is used by the University of Connecticut's football team and the United Football League's Hartford franchise. The stadium will be used next February for outdoor hockey and will feature games that include Whalers and Bruins alumni along with college hockey.

Former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin is attempting to establish a climate that would open the door to the return of the NHL to Connecticut's capital.

Rowland has worked in government since his release from prison and is now on the radio for a few days anyway. Radio and TV used to have real journalists, people who got their start in newspapers, on staff. Cable TV and radio today is filled with carnival barkers, drug addicts, an eight time married guy with a shady background who borrowed money from whoever he could, a guy who rallied against Mexicans and illegal immigrants even though his wife is Mexican, politicians who left office in shame or did jail time, political operatives, one time sports highlight narrators, construction workers, college dropouts, comedians and nobodies who know how to scream and act angry knowing they could cut off someone with a opposite viewpoint. These are the kind of people who would be shown the door at 500-watt radio stations for lack of talent in the 1970s. Rowland, a three time winner, never did finish his term. Instead he went to jail. Maybe he really does fit in with what passes for talent on radio and on cable TV these days.

Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on the "Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at

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