He is not the frontrunner in the polls, but it did not take long before both of his gubernatorial opponents took aim at Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele’s record during Wednesday’s televised debate at the Garde Art Center in New London.
The event, hosted by the Day of New London and WTNH News 8, drew about 250 people. The event was to be streamed live on News 8 WTNH.com, ConnPolitics.tv, and also was to be broadcast on News 8’s cable TV sister station, MyTV9.
Accused of being responsible for proposing a tax increase in 2007 and for taking public campaign finance money while driving a Ferrari, Fedele spent most of the hour-long debate on the defensive.
“Let’s be clear – the lieutenant governor does not have the ability to propose a budget,” Fedele said. “The governor does.” He said that’s why he wants to be governor.
Frontrunner Tom Foley told Fedele he needs to take more responsibility than that.
When Fedele had an opportunity he shot right back saying Foley’s comments were about as accurate as his application for U.S. Ambassador to Ireland where he failed to accurately answer whether he had ever been charged with a felony.
Foley didn’t defend himself, but rather continued to criticize Fedele’s decision to use the public campaign finance system. He said Fedele owns a Ferrari and should be able to raise his own campaign funds instead of using “taxpayer dollars.”
Fedele said he might own a Ferarri, but Foley owns a plane. R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel chimed in to joke that he doesn’t own either.
Somewhat baffled by the continued attacks, Fedele said “I am only candidate up here that has said I will not propose any new taxes.”
Foley said Fedele’s pledge not to increase taxes is conditional on getting a Republican majority in the legislature. That’s not true, Fedele said.
While Foley and Fedele sparred Griebel looked for his moment to break through the noise and propose a specific solution to the looming $3.5 billion budget deficit. Griebel said he wouldn’t keep spending flat at around $17 billion a year for four years and wouldn’t fund state employee pensions, like Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey.
After the debate Griebel said Foley and Fedele are free to spar, but he doesn’t think it helps voters understand where the candidates stand on the issues.
Griebel, who headed the Metro Hartford Alliance before becoming a candidate, said it’s disingenuous of his opponents to say he’s underfunded. He said he can’t raise money because of the restrictions the state’s public finance law put on him, even though he’s not even participating in it.
“Do you know how many people have contracts with the state,” Griebel said after the debate.
State contractors are prohibited from soliciting or giving money to campaigns, even to candidates who aren’t participating in the clean elections system.
Foley, who is wealthy enough to fund his own campaign, said he’s disappointed Fedele has decide to go negative. Fedele said Foley is just upset about being confronted with the facts about his “failures” as a businessman.
“Obviously I was the target of their attacks,” Fedele said after the debate. “The Oz team is out of money and the Foley campaign continues to misspeak,” Fedele said.
However, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who maintains high approval ratings and is not seeking reelection, was also the target of attacks. Fedele continued to distance himself from her even though early in the campaign he had sought her endorsement.
Rell decided to sit this one out and has said she won’t endorse a candidate prior to the Aug. 10 Republican primary.