The State Ethics Commission is extending the deadline for state Senator Dan Wolf to either resign his seat or divest his interest in his company, Cape Air, a move that allows to him to remain in office while he appeals its decision that he is in conflict with state ethics laws.
The commission said it would allow Wolf to continue to hold public office until at least its Sept. 19 meeting, at which time the senator is expected to present his appeal to the agency. Initially Wolf, by law, had to make his decision within 30-days of its August 2 legal ruling on the issue, and he had planned to resign Thursday.
That ruling forced Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, to put his gubernatorial campaign on hold on the grounds that if the decision is upheld, he could not serve as governor if he did not sell off most of his Cape Air holdings. He said he is anguished over severing his relationship with a company he created 27 years ago.
The commission contends that because Cape Air has contracts with the Massachusetts Port Authority for landing fees at Logan Airport, Wolf is in violation of the law that bans elected officials from having any interest in state contracts.
“I extend my thanks to the Commission and its staff for its continuing willingness to further examine this issue, knowing its strong commitment to enforcing and expressing the letter and spirit of the law,’’ Wolf said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
“Until then, I will remain as State Senator for the Cape and Islands with hopes of a positive resolution to this matter, which would also allow me to resume my gubernatorial campaign,’’ he said.
Wolf, who has planned to run on a progressive platform for his gubernatorial campaign, picked up a strong ally Wednesday in his struggle to reverse the commission’s decision when Governor Deval Patrick expressed sympathy for the senator’s predicament.
“The reactions of most people have been—really across political differences—is that the decision may be technically right but it is practically odd,’’ said Patrick, reflecting what many in the business and civic community see as discouraging to entrepreneurs like Wolf who might consider running for office.
But Patrick, speaking after an event marking the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March On Washington Wednesday afternoon, also noted that Wolf faces a tough task because the commission has the final say in the matter.
Wolf has argued that the arrangements between Cape Air and MassPort are operating agreements, not negotiated contracts, and that the authority is required to provide them to all airlines. The fees are set by federal regulators.
His problem with the Ethics Commission developed into a public spat after he claimed the commission’s general counsel conveyed advice to an aide just before he took his Senate seat in 2010 that “led me to believe no such conflict would exists.”
That prompted an unusual rebuke from the commission. It released an email dated Nov. 23, 2010, in which its general counsel specifically warned the aide that the contracts posed potential legal issues for the senator-elect. It also said that Wolf, after conversations this past spring, proceeded to run for governor despite further warnings from the commission.
“In his dealings with the Commission, Senator Wolf was never led to believe that no conflict existed,’’ the Ethics Commission wrote. “In fact, he was advised that he likely had a substantial problem under the conflict law, and that he would be given specific advice after he provided the Massport contracts. Senator Wolf provided the contracts, but announced his intention to run for Governor before receiving that advice.”