What they want to be a referendum on Connecticut’s sluggish economy took an unwanted detour this week for multiple Republicans who are exploring a run for governor when GOP favorite Tom Foley publicly asserted that incumbent Dannel P. Malloy has fostered a culture of cronyism at the Capitol.
They say that Foley, who lost to Malloy by 6,500 votes in 2010, would be wise to refocus his message on pocket-book issues such as taxes, job recruitment and retention, and the state’s unfunded pension liability.
The head-scratching within the ranks of the GOP follows a string of television and radio appearances in which Foley, citing anonymous sources, claimed that Malloy steered business to the firms of political allies and took compensation from the man he eventually appointed his environmental and energy commissioner.
Foley’s critics notably include his former running mate, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who is also weighing a bid for the state’s highest office next year.
“You can’t throw out half-truths and mistruths,” Boughton told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers Thursday. “You have to back it up.”
Recipients on Boughton’s email list received a message Thursday with the heading, “Tom Foley’s tough week,” and excerpts from multiple media outlets skewering Foley for failing to offer hard evidence to support his claims.
Foley, a private equity manager from Greenwich who served as U.S. ambassador to Ireland under President George W. Bush, cast himself as an outsider who is not afraid to expose examples of impropriety in state government.
“I’ll win all day long on good government,” Foley told Hearst. “They don’t like it when someone from the outside pokes a stick in their business. This kind of behavior, and even the perception of this kind of behavior, erodes the public’s confidence in their leaders.”
GOP State Sen. Toni Boucher, of Wilton, who also filed exploratory paperwork for a potential run for governor, distanced herself from Foley’s comments.
“Personally, I would stick to what I know, and stick to the facts of understanding the people and what their concerns are,” Boucher said. “Given we’re in such bad shape, what are the triggers that are making people and jobs leave in droves? I am focused on telling the truth. This is the kind of things that we should be discussing as candidates, not other things that are distracting from the problems (facing) the state.”
Ronald Schurin, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Connecticut, said Foley should have used a surrogate to level allegations against Malloy and done a better job fact-checking his claims.
“The general sense is that he’s been acting in an erratic way,” Schurin said. “These things give an image of somebody who kind of shoots from the hip and says whatever comes into his mind. I can’t quite figure out what the strategy is.”
State GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. vouched for Foley, while at the same time attempting to reframe the discourse of the race.
“Although I cannot speak to the specific charges, I have come to know Tom Foley to be a reasonable guy, so when he says something is true, it should carry a certain amount of weight,” Labriola said. “What I know for certain is that Governor Malloy has a lot of questions to answer about Connecticut’s last place economic standing and the disastrous tax-and-spend policies of the Democrat-ruling class. This is the debate we want to have, and, I have no doubt, our gubernatorial candidates will make Connecticut’s failed economy the centerpiece of their campaigns.”
Earlier, Malloy’s office characterized Foley’s claims as patently false and demanded an apology from the governor’s chief rival, who Democrats in turn called on to release information related to a pair of prior arrests. Foley reiterated that the charges against him – stemming from a motor vehicle accident and domestic dispute with his first wife – were dropped and that the records were never sealed.
A message seeking comment from Malloy’s office was left Thursday with a spokesman for the governor, who is in his first term and was listed by National Public Radio as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the nation.
Foley stood by his claims and said the state needs more watchdogs to hold the Malloy administration’s feet to the fire.
“Nothing I’ve said is untrue,” Foley said, adding that his sourcing of the information meets journalistic standards used by the New York Times. “I’m not the FBI. I don’t have a team of investigators.”