News Column

Pointed exchanges mark first debate for Gov. Dannel Malloy, Tom Foley

August 28, 2014

By Mary E. O'Leary, New Haven Register, Conn.

Aug. 28--NORWICH -- In their first debate of the campaign, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican businessman Tom Foley tangled Wednesday over who was more truthful, revisited the controversies over Foley's visit to Sprague and his ownership of the Bibb Company, as well the specifics of the gun bill adopted last year.

The governor and Foley are engaged in a rematch after Malloy, the first Democrat in that office in two decades, beat Foley by 6,404 votes in 2010. The debate was held at Norwich Free Academy.

Foley accused the governor of employing "Malloy math" in his budgeting, while Malloy talked about the workers the former ambassador to Ireland laid off when he managed the Georgia textile mill in the 1990s which went into bankruptcy under his watch.

There were only a few interruptions from the crowd of 400 listeners, with each campaign allowed 100 tickets to make sure their supporters were there.

The debate, moderated by Norwich Bulletin Editorial Page Editor Ray Hackett, was conversational, with each contender given a set amount of time to use as they saw fit -- but it didn't mean that they weren't pointed in their exchanges.

They disagreed on everything.

Malloy said crime is dropping at a higher average in Connecticut than it is nationally, while Foley said the state has three out of the six cities with the highest crime rates for populations under 200,000. There are studies that take issue with these reports, saying they don't provide insights into the variables responsible for these crimes.

Malloy apologized for his infamous remark that all teachers have to do to get tenure is "show up for four years." The governor said it was "bad language" and he shouldn't have said it.

Foley, who hasn't made clear which provisions of the state's new stricter gun law he supports, did agree that he believes in background checks, but thought other portions of the law make law-abiding citizens criminals. He said keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill depends on how severly ill they are.

Malloy said the provisions of the law were a matter of safety and not "inconvenience," as Foley has said in his criticisms of the legislation.

"Laws are meant to be obeyed," he said.

Hackett asked whether state troopers would go to the 200 people the state knows have not registered their weapons and charge them.

The governor said they might be in compliance, while Foley said as governor he would make sure they would not be prosecuted.

Foley said he has told Malloy of his concerns with the gun law, but the governor said they never had such a conversation, labeling it another example of Foley not being truthful.

The Republican contender said he communicates with the governor through the press. "I tell you things through Capitol Report," he said, referring to an Internet aggregator website.

Malloy talked about the 60,000 private sector jobs added during his administration and the investments in small businesses and the more controversial millions in tax credits for larger corporations with high paying jobs as laying the foundation for more job growth.

Foley took issue with that and said he feels like the two of them are living in two different states, as he hears nothing but complaints from people who are making less, with close to half the population ready to move out of Connecticut.

Foley disputed Malloy's claims that his administration has made progress in righting the state's economy. He called job growth under Malloy "anemic" and said the first-term Democrat has driven jobs out of Connecticut, accusing him of "bribing people to stay here" with expensive economic development packages.

"Governor, this is not working," said Foley. "We have the worst job recovery rate or one of the worst in the country."

The governor said he has raised the spending of state tax dollars an average of 2.8 percent, while his Republican predecessors boosted spending an average of 4.5 percent. He also added how he successfully pushed to raise the state's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017.

"You can say as many bad things as you can about me, but I take pride in what we're doing," Malloy said. "We're building a stronger and better Connecticut."

But Foley said separating out federal funding distorts the picture. "You are twisting the numbers, stop doing that," he said.

Foley's main pitch is that he has been a businessman for more than three decades and he knows how to encourage more growth here, but the Malloy campaign is again using Foley's tenure at the Bibb Company in Georgia, as it did in 2010, to argue against that.

It has also stressed the GOP candidate's fight with workers and the first selectwoman of Sprague, where he criticized them for failing to keep Fusion Paperboard in that town. Foley said the failure of Fusion and the loss of 145 jobs was based on state policies.

Foley asked why Malloy was spending so much time on the Bibb history, which he said was irrelevant. He called it insulting to the voters. "This has nothing to do with the future of Connecticut," he said to a roar of cheers from his side of the room.

Foley, after winning the Republican primary over state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, said he thought he needed eight years to set the state on the right path.

"You had eight years to solve the problems of the Bibb company to protect people's livelihoods ... but you failed," Malloy said. "When the company you owned failed, did you go to their governor and blame him?" This time his side of the room roared their approval.

Foley referred to Catherine Osten, Sprague's first selectwoman, as a "heckler. She was heckling me, which was kind of entertainig for awhile, but it got a little tired after a few minutes." Foley said some union members were there, but he didn't know if they worked there. He said he was referring to the union policy as a failure, not the workers.

Bibb went into bankruptcy under Foley's management in 1996 and two years later was closed by a subsequent owner.

Forbes Magazine reported in 1995 that Foley sold off an unprofitable division at Bibb, cutting 1,000 from its payroll, while Home Furnishings News, a trade publication, reported in 1995 that Foley cut the workforce from 6,000 to 5,500 workers after it missed a $9 million balloon payment to bondholders.

The company took some $20 million in fees over the years, of which Foley got 20 percent.

Most polls have shown the candidates in a dead heat, although a recent Rasmussen poll shows Foley 7 points ahead, 45 percent to 38 percent, while the YouGov/CBS/NYT poll has Foley at 49 percent to 42 percent for Malloy. A March Quinnipiac Poll has voters split on whether Malloy should be re-elected, 45 percent to 46 percent, with their biggest concern the economy.

At least three more debates or forums are planned for the gubernatorial candidates:

--Keep the Promise is sponsoring one on mental health, Sept. 19 at Central Connecticut State Univesity at 6 p.m., Welte Auditorium.

--A debate sponsored by Ct.Mirror, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the AARP is tentatively set for Sept. 23 at Hamden Middle School at 7 p.m.

--A forum led by NPR host John Dankosky is set for Oct. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at Career High School in New Haven.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Have questions, feedback or ideas about our news coverage? Connect directly with the editors of the New Haven Register at AskTheRegister.com.

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(c)2014 New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

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Source: New Haven Register (CT)


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