There's a sad irony in the way the generally bright and shiny public service careers of the Dodds, father and son, ended in dark shadows.

After performing brilliantly as a prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials of World War II criminals, Thomas J. Dodd's distinguished service in two terms as a United States Senator from Connecticut came to an abrupt halt in 1970 when he was accused of diverting political campaign funds to personal use.

The allegations led to censure by the Senate and Connecticut's Democratic Party consequently dropped him from the 1970 ticket, giving the nomination instead to the Rev. Joseph Duffey. With the Democratic vote thus effectively split that November, Lowell Weicker, the Republican maverick, took the Senate seat, going on to plague Richard Nixon and then become the governor who brought the income tax to Connecticut.

Now Sen. Dodd's son, Christopher J. Dodd, has regressed from a perennial sure thing on the ballot to a vulnerable quandary for the Democratic Party. After a 36-year hitch in Washington, six in the House and 30 in the Senate, he won't be running for reelection in November.

Nobody is saying so out loud, but party leaders are believed to have "encouraged" this Democratic icon to retire because he has incurred the wrath of voters and the party is not willing to risk an important Senate seat by fielding a candidate now seen as susceptible to defeat.

As recently as 10 days before announcing his retirement, Sen. Dodd was talking about there still being plenty of time before the election to reverse his plummeting ratings in public opinion polls. He didn't sound like somebody who was about to quit. Indeed, nobody is more politically astute than Dodd and he might very well have done it. Also, he had hardly finished announcing his retirement when Dick Blumenthal stepped into the breach, an indication that it was pre-ordained.

Alas, Chris Dodd's image had been fading since his quixotic bid for the presidential nomination in 2007, when he actually moved his family to Iowa, even enrolling his children in schools there, before the pivotal caucuses. And it came crashing down about 18 months ago when the nation's economy tanked and accusatory fingers pointed at Sen. Dodd because he was chairman of the powerful Senate Banking Committee and it happened on his watch.

Further, Sen. Dodd was perceived as being "too cozy" with the business interests, especially the insurance industry, that always had been so supportive of his candidacy. He fell further from grace following reports that he had received mortgages on homes in Connecticut and Ireland on what were regarded as especially favorable terms, though the Senate Ethics Committee found no wrong-doing.

Thus has the great Dodd legacy become tarnished, probably unfairly. Overshadowed now is the work a popular and highly respected legislator can do over the course of 36 years.

More fittingly, the closing months of his career ought to be remembered for his advocacy of health-care reform and the Family and Medical Leave Act that allows people to take unpaid time off from work to tend to family health issues without losing their jobs. It was typically of the kind of representation working people received from Dodd for more than three decades.

Alas, persuasive party leaders were worried about his vulnerability and, party loyalist that he is, he stepped aside. That's sharp contrast to what can be expected from Connecticut's other allegedly Democratic senator, Joe Lieberman, who after losing the nomination in a primary, arrogantly rejected the will of party voters and declared, "I will not let this stand." Maybe the wrong senator is leaving Washington.

The Dodd retirement has triggered a seismic shift in Connecticut's political landscape. Dick Blumenthal now wants to move into the Senate seat, which leaves the attorney general's office open to other aspirants and Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who had been leading other gubernatorial hopefuls in the early polls, has declared her interest in that direction. Then her office would be open and so on down the line.

But Dodd is not done yet. There's a year left in his term and it's entirely likely that he will resurface after that in a key post in the Obama administration.