As the primary season draws to a close, campaign operatives and others are pushing back against opponents’ negative advertising claims on both sides of the political aisle.
Ned Lamont’s supporters came to the Capitol on Friday to talk about why they don’t believe his opponent, former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, should be talking about the race discrimination lawsuit Lamont’s company settled back in 2002.
Lamont and Malloy are both vying for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
None of the African-American and Latino elected officials at the Capitol on Friday said they had anything against Malloy. However, they said they support Lamont and just wanted to clarify some of the statements made in ads like this one.
Sen. Ed Gomes of Bridgeport said between 70 and 80 percent of politics is perception and sometimes that perception becomes reality. He said all that exists is a sealed 2002 settlement.
“How the charge was disposed of or what came of the charge is not in the literature that’s put out. The charge as I understand went before the EEOC and they found no merit in the charge,” Gomes said. “I believe Lamont is not a racist.”
New Haven Alderman Marcus Paca said the advertisement which mentions the Courant’s article about Lamont being sued by an African-American employee is a “smear tactic.”
“I think we need to be focusing on the issues, focusing on jobs,” Paca said. “Let’s stay focused on the issues.”
In 2006 during the Lamont’s race against U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, his 16-year membership to the mostly white Round Hill Country Club in Greenwich became the focus of some negative campaign ads.
“Ned Lamont and his campaign have become increasingly desperate,” Roy Occhiogrosso, a consultant for Malloy, said Friday.
“His campaign has run the sleaziest attack ad of the season,” Occhiogrosso countered referring to this ad about the 17-month criminal investigation by the chief state’s attorney’s office regarding improvements done to Malloy’s home by city contractors. Malloy was never charged and prosecutors released a letter at the end of the investigation saying there was “no credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing.”
“We weren’t playing the race card, we just mentioned the Courant’s article in the ad,” Occhiogrosso said. “And we mentioned it because Ned has built his campaign around being a business person. That’s all.”
The back-and-forth between the two Democratic candidates feels almost tame when you compare it the jabs being thrown on the Republican side.
During Wednesday’s televised debate, Tom Foley, the frontrunner in the Republican gubernatorial race, alleged that Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele’s campaign is running scripted attack ads depicting his company’s management of a Georgia textile mill.
“I thought they were doing a documentary on the Bibb,” Caldwell said.
When he arrived in front of the bell tower, which is all that remains of the mill, he said he learned what the television production was really about. He said he told the crew he would only say flattering things about Foley and that’s when they told him they couldn’t use him.
Caldwell worked under Foley for two years until his retirement in 1990.
“When I retired Mr. Foley came to see me,” Caldwell said. He said he remembers that Foley came down to visit the plant often and he would usually arrive in a cab dressed in blue jeans. “He was a relaxed young man,” Caldwell said.
Foley’s company – NTC Group – managed the Bibb from 1985 through 1996, when the plant filed for bankruptcy. Fedele alleges that Foley earned millions of dollars in his final years owning the plant and that his management company received about $20 million during the last few years. Foley disputes those figures, but Fedele said they are outlined in a Securities and Exchange Commission report.
“The people they ended up talking to were not, have never been employees of Bibb,” Foley said after this week’s debate. “They’ve been given a big fancy lunch and they’ve been given scripts.”
Jerri Bardwell, who worked at Bibb for 38 years, said that’s just not true.
“I am outraged, angry and hurt by this. I cannot believe Mr. Foley would stoop so low,” Bardwell said in an audio message released by the Fedele campaign. “Mr. Foley killed our factory, our jobs, and our town, but he cannot kill our dignity. Mr. Foley, you should be ashamed of yourself. I hope the voters of Connecticut teach you a lesson on Tuesday.”
When Caldwell learned Bardwell was the one in the commercial making some of the accusations against Foley, he said, “I don’t know why she would do that.”
Caldwell blamed the management company, Dan River Inc., that took over following the bankruptcy. He said it was Dan River Inc. that took away the employees’ health insurance.
“These are people who came forward to talk about their experience at Bibb,” Fedele said Wednesday following the debate. “This was not just people losing jobs. This was also the destruction of a town.”
Fedele didn’t respond to the statements about the ad during the debate because he said he’s trying to move on with the issues. “They are real people. They obviously have their opinions and they’re shown right there on television,” Fedele added.
But Foley said the ad reflects on Fedele’s ability to lead. “He has not been candid and truthful in these ads. They’re simply false.”
Foley said he thinks negative ads are turn-offs for voters, especially those in the Republican Party who believe in Ronald Reagan’s “11th commandment.”
Fedele’s campaign said it stands by the advertisement and the included allegations.
Chris Cooper, spokesman for the Fedele campaign, said the intent of the commercial was clearly explained and releases were signed by all the people who participated. He said none of the commercial was scripted.
“This is typical of what happens when you try and reinvent the truth,” Cooper said of Foley’s response on Friday.
He said Katherine Carver, featured prominently in this article, was one of the last people there that day when the film crew was going out to bring back some lunch. They asked her if she wanted a sandwich. Cooper said Carver declined.
No one was even given a “coca-cola,” he said.
Some of the employees featured in the commercial had answered an ad in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. The local newspaper was unable to locate a copy of the advertisement Friday, so it is unclear if it was conveyed to the former Bibb Co. employees that they were being asked to participate in a political ad.