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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Hartford Courant goes soft on Newton

What was The Hartford Courant thinking when they published this article?

A state senator that takes bribes and The Hartford Courant does a soft feature story on State Senator Ernest Newton's political life? You have to be kidding me right? Why is he getting a pass from the state largest newspaper? You would think that after the Rowland scandal, the press would be more critical on any political officals who allegedly took bribes. Why then would the Courant write a story that profiles Newton's entire life in such a way that the reader could have pity for him.

The story of Newton's life shows a man of contradictions - an ex-drug addict from the inner city who is also a former music teacher and an accomplished piano player of classical and gospel music. He is a fighter for the poorest of the poor and is under investigation for taking bribes from the head of a job-training agency.

During his 17-year career in the legislature, Newton has become known as a champion of the underprivileged and a proponent of the so-called millionaires' tax on the state's wealthiest residents. As the former co-chairman of the legislature's public safety committee - he stepped down earlier this year after news broke that he was under investigation - Newton pushed for a bill to counter racial profiling by the police in motor-vehicle stops. He later sought to equalize the penalties for possession with intent to sell crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

It's all nice that Newton was able to get his life together but this has nothing to do with the web of corruption he has created. Actually, I could care less about his past, I care about what the person is doing today and from what I read and saw this past week, Newton could be facing some serious trouble.

This week we find out in court that FBI has a tape recording of Newton accepting a bribe, Warren Keith Godbolt of Brideport's Progressive Training Associates admitted to bribing "a unnamed political official" thousands of dollars and anyone who has watched this case knows that the unmamed political offical is Newton.
Newton's friends want to believe he is not guilty, but prosecutors say they have a wiretap recording of a discussion concerning the $5,000 bribe. Public documents show investigators conducted wiretaps over 178 days last year, collecting 391 "incriminating" intercepts in a corruption case that is believed to be focused on Newton.


But friends and insiders say that the allegations took on a new level of seriousness when Warren Keith Godbolt went to federal court this week and pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges. Godbolt admitted embezzling as much as $120,000 from Progressive Training Associates Inc., a Bridgeport nonprofit agency that was awarded $100,000 last year to renovate its headquarters. Court documents said the unnamed official who took the bribe from Godbolt issued two press releases taking credit for the state aid; both came from Newton's office.

With all this evidence against him, you would think the Courant would rake Newton over the coals or dig deeper into his involvment with other agencies and see if he has accepted bribes from other people. Instead, he's called a political survivor and we get cute quotes of support from his supporters such as Lt. Gov Kevin Sullivan.

"Ernie is a survivor," Sullivan said. "He's a street kid who made it, then lost it - getting heavily involved in a bad cocaine addiction while serving in the legislature. Then he beat it, and came back. That's what strikes me as incomprehensible - to put himself in this position after having clawed and scraped and fought back to be where he is."
NOTE TO SULLIVAN: If your running for governor, please make this the last quote about Edward Newton you ever make. The last thing you would want is offering support to a crook who the FBI has on tape accepting a bribe.

One thing that the Courant has right, a majority of the democrats have been silent on the Newton problem when they should be asking for his resignation.

On Friday, state Republican Chairman William Hamzy said that the Senate Democrats have been remarkably silent in not calling for Newton's resignation.

"These same Democrat lawmakers who were so quick to articulate their indignation during the Rowland scandal have, for the most part, displayed an overt double standard when it comes to the ethical misconduct of their own," Hamzy said.

But Patrick Scully, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, noted that Williams did say that Newton should resign if the allegations are true. Scully noted that Democrats did not call for Rowland's resignation until he had admitted lying to the general public and accepting gifts from contractors. By contrast, Newton maintains his innocence and has not been charged with anything.

"Rowland and Newton are two totally different things," Scully said. "It's not a double standard, and [Hamzy] knows it."

The double standard is that Rowland wasn't stupid enough to get caught accepting a bribe on a wiretap.

Every newspaper should be treating the Newton case as a critical hard news story and not a cute profile story. After the Rowland scandal, people in Connecticut should expect that the press would be more critical on political officials when it comes to corruption and Newton should be no exception.