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Chowdhury says career in public service should outweigh 'personal failure'

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By AJ Vicens

In his first full interview since his arrest and guilty plea for slapping his daughter, embattled school board member and defeated House candidate Vince Chowdhury says he has apologized and hopes people will consider his entire career in public service when evaluating him as a person.

Chowdhury pleaded guilty July 8 to third-degree misdemeanor assault after being accused of slapping and choking his 16-year-old daughter June 17. Chowdhury told deputies who responded to his South Jeffco home that he "lost it" after he honked the horn in his driveway and his wife and daughter didn't open the garage door fast enough. He came inside the house very upset, his wife told deputies, and when his daughter apologized in a way he took to be mocking him, he started slapping her.

He was given a one-year deferred judgment, and the case will be dismissed if he attends anger management and parenting classes and stays out of trouble.

"In 21 years of marriage, I have never had any problems whatsoever," Chowdhury said in an interview Aug. 9. "I love my two little girls, and my whole life circles around them. My wife and I love each other, but it's always my children that come first."

Chowdhury said his daughters have been raised with discipline and high academic expectations, which has helped his older daughter get into an exclusive film school at the University of Southern California.

"But that's not an excuse for my behavior," Chowdhury said. "I should not have slapped her. I have apologized, and I asked for forgiveness the moment it happened."

Since his guilty plea, the school board has passed a resolution calling for Chowdhury’s resignation, and numerous other public officials have urged him to step down.  A website also has been started that seeks his resignation, but so far he has not stepped down.  

In a statement e-mailed to the Courier on Aug. 8, Chowdhury said he has tried to protect his family from a "media circus by working toward a quick resolution in the legal system," and that led to "a one-sided account published in the media."

"I am working with my family to make it whole again," he said in the statement. "I have accepted that what I have done was wrong and could have been handled in a very different way. I am committed to improving myself through the attendance of anger management and parenting classes. My momentary lapse in judgment undid years of trust, and it is through making amends to my family and self-improvement that this trust will be rebuilt and my family strengthened."

Chowdhury said he still has not made a decision on stepping down from the Jeffco school board. He said the 52 days since the June 17 incident have been "the lowest point in my life."

"I just try to take it day by day," Chowdhury said. "Actually, it's more like minute by minute and hour by hour, just trying to focus on my family and my life."

Chowdhury said that those calling for him to step down represent just a handful of people.

"And I congratulate them for having a perfect life," Chowdhury said. "That's what I thought I had."

Chowdhury said that "with all due modesty, I remain the most experienced member on that board," and that people need to evaluate all aspects of his service to the community when considering whether he should continue to serve. Chowdhury was appointed to the school board in February 1999 to fill a vacancy, and was elected to full terms in 2001 and 2005. Chowdhury said he was a "champion" of the bond issue in 1997, the mill levy in 1998 and 1999, and the bond and mill levy in 2004.

"My commitment to our children has not changed," Chowdhury said in the statement. "My commitment to our teachers has not changed. My commitment to making the Jefferson County School District the best in the nation has not changed."

"If they want to cast a stone at me, I will turn the other cheek," Chowdhury said in the interview. "I have fallen from grace, but I am a human being. Everybody deserves a second chance."

He said he doesn't know what will happen Aug. 21 at the school board's first meeting of the school year. He said the three women seeking his recall on a website they launched — Lois Florkey, Denise Mund and Deb Dempsey — all have "issues" with him from the past. The three are planning a news conference the night of the school board meeting in an attempt to get Chowdhury to resign.

"That's what democracy is all about," Chowdhury said. "Everybody has the right to express their opinion. I'm not bitter about that.

"My record of public service, in all due modesty, is impeccable," Chowdhury added. "It's my personal failure, and it remains a personal and family matter. If people want to be objective about this issue, I hope they can separate the two."

Chowdhury said he hasn’t responded to calls from board president Scott Benefield because of personal issues between the two, but he has been in communication with the board secretary.

"I was not sidestepping anybody," Chowdhury said.

He said the issue of his future on the board likely won't be resolved Aug. 21 because he wants to make the decision without pressure.

"I want to do that in an honorable manner and in my own time frame," Chowdhury said, "not because people who have always opposed me want me to."

Chowdhury was defeated soundly Aug. 12 in the Democratic primary for House District 22.

Chowdhury said he's realistic about his political future.

"I think it would be presumptuous on my part to think I have any kind of political future left," he said. "I don't think I do. Right now, all I am thinking about is my family and my own personal life, and everything else is totally secondary."