'Relationship' Keeps Democratic Leader From Coming to Clinton's Aid

In Colorado, the debate over adultery in high office has hit much closer to home than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Gov. Roy Romer (D) surprised many here last month when he acknowledged he's had a 16-year "special relationship" with a female deputy chief of staff. But unlike President Clinton, who so far seems impervious to allegations of an adulterous affair while in office, Governor Romer has been off his stride ever since.

Those who have followed Romer's long career say the ebullient, optimistic governor has become "subdued" and "tentative" since a Feb. 6 press conference about his relationship with Betty Jane "B.J." Thornberry, who now works in Washington.

Moreover, the revelations disarm Romer, who also serves as general chairman of the Democratic National Committee, in any effort to defend Mr. Clinton.

"He'd look rather foolish attempting to defend Bill Clinton against allegations concerning extramarital affairs," says David Eberhardt, a political scientist at the University of Colorado here. "Meanwhile, Jim Nicholson, who chairs the [GOP], is free to criticize the president."

IF his last year as governor isn't twinkling as brightly as he hoped it would, Romer may yet have a political future. It remains to be seen what the long-term impact of his recent admission will be on his future and his legacy as governor. Colleagues say it's difficult to picture him in retirement, and they wonder if he'll take a Cabinet post, head a corporation, or enter academia. Romer ruled out a run for US Senate this fall, but in his State of the State address in January he quipped that "a four-year sabbatical [from the governor's office] would be very refreshing."

The Democrat's comment drew laughter from the audience of largely Republican lawmakers, who nonetheless say they are looking forward to one last legislative session with the three-term governor.

Many here are surprised that allegations of adultery have surfaced now, when Romer is a lame duck. The charges have arisen before, first in an alternative Denver weekly in 1990. Romer denied the allegations, and again four years later when he ran for his final term.

This time, it was the conservative Insight Magazine reporting the story.

Because it had photos of Romer kissing Ms. Thornberry, it became big news. Romer, who has been married for 45 years, was expected to issue a terse, "My private life is not your business" statement. But he didn't.

Instead, at a press conference he said that his relationship with Thornberry is not a sexual one, and that he hasn't kept any secrets from his wife and seven children. He described the relationship as "honorable and beautiful.... This is not a sexual relationship.... But it is a very affectionate relationship."

Many Coloradans just want the old Romer back. They say they'd be satisfied if he would once again go to the mat with the General Assembly over legislation.

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