April 4, 2014 10:30PM
By Mary Ellen Godin
MERIDEN — The Rev. Will Marotti, pastor of New Life Church, will take over former Gov. John Rowland’s radio program on WTIC-AM beginning Monday.
Rowland stepped down as host of the afternoon talk program citing personal reasons Thursday. His departure from the show follows his identification in federal court as a co-conspirator in an alleged campaign finance scheme.
Marotti had little comment when reached Friday, telling a reporter to wait until Monday for any announcements or program changes. He also wanted to reserve comments on the latest Rowland scandal until he was on the air.
After teaming up with Rowland on the radio from 2010 to 2012, Marotti has been on call with WTIC, filling in for Rowland and other hosts while he devoted time to his church and family. He said Friday the timing of his return to the airwaves on a more regular basis was still not perfect.
“It’s not the best time for me in my life,” Marotti said. “It’s an extenuating circumstance, and sometimes you have to make adjustments.”
Marotti has been Rowland’s spiritual advisor since the former Republican governor was sentenced to prison on a federal felony corruption charge in 2004. The relationship with Rowland started in 2003 when Rowland appointed Marotti to serve on a council to oversee faith-based uses of government funds. During the heat of the Rowland scandal, Marotti became one of Rowland’s staunchest supporters even calling for a public show of support on the steps of the state Capitol. During Rowland’s 10 months in federal prison, he remained in contact with Marotti.
After prison, Rowland tried to make a name for himself as a motivational speaker and even accepted a stint as an economic development director for the city of Waterbury.
“John Rowland today is not the same guy he was in 2003,” Marotti told the Republican-American, after Rowland’s release. “He’s very much in tune with his weakness, more sensitive and more humble.”
In 2010 Rowland, who was filling in at WTIC, teamed up with Marotti for a politically conservative talk show called “State and Church.” Marotti conducted on-air interviews with former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guliani.
Marotti stayed with the show until 2012, when he said his rapidly expanding church and school left little time for hosting a radio program. He also said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Marotti would still fill in periodically for Rowland and morning host Jim Vicevich and worked about 10 weeks last year, he said.
Marottti told the Record-Journal in 2012 that he enjoyed having a platform to air his political views. “It gave me a chance to vent my political frustrations,” he said. “The people at church don’t want to hear about politics. They go to hear about Jesus and spiritual truth.”
In addition to growing New Life Church, Marotti has kept active in the community. He serves on Mission Meriden, is the former state coordinator for the National Day of Prayer in Connecticut, a member of the Midstate Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis International. He also stayed in politics and became a fixture at Republican Town Committee meetings, working on local GOP campaigns. Marotti made a personal donation to GOP mayoral candidate and eventual winner Manny Santos. Last fall, he hosted GOP presidential contender Ben Carson at a non-church event at New Life Church.
Some of Marotti’s critics, notably city and state Democrats, have questioned the church’s tax exempt status, given Marotti’s public support of conservative causes and candidates.
Religious organizations, as well as other organizations exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, are prohibited from participating or intervening directly or indirectly, in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective public office, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. This restriction covers a wide array of activities — direct political campaign intervention, including the making of statements, whether oral, written or in an electronic medium, supporting or opposing any candidate, political party or political action committee, creating a PAC, rating candidates, and providing or soliciting financial support — including loans or loan guarantees — or in-kind support for any candidate, political party or PAC. It also precludes indirect political campaign intervention that reflects bias for or against any candidate, political party or PAC, such as distributing biased voter education materials or conducting a biased candidate forum or voter registration drive.
Marotti said his political opinions and campaign contributions are his own, not the church’s.
“I can’t preach on Sunday morning for or against a candidate, or about politics” Marotti said. “But as a private citizen I still have free speech.”
Marotti said he has the support of the majority of his congregation. He also keeps his board apprised and has the support of its members.
Former Democratic Mayor Michael Rohde, who was defeated by Santos, disagrees that Marotti is separating his opinions from his church. He recalls a televised sermon where Marotti shared a dream about having difficulty getting a school started and stated he woke up wanting to get into politics. He asked the TV audience to email him if interested.
“He is the face and founder of that church,” Rohde said. “I know he was making phone calls against me. One has to wonder how much influence he has.”