BROOKFIELD — Two of the Republican candidates vying for the 5th Congressional District seat teamed up against Lisa Wilson-Foley during a debate Monday and criticized her family’s relationship with former Gov. John G. Rowland.
A federal grand jury is investigating allegations that Rowland was paid as a consultant by Wilson-Foley’s husband at the same time as he was volunteering for the Simsbury Republican’s campaign and also broadcasting his afternoon radio show on WTIC AM-1080.
Justin Bernier of Plainville said the Republican who wins the Aug. 14 primary is likely to face Chris Donovan, the Democratic Speaker of the House, whose congressional campaign has become the subject of a federal investigation. Two of Donovan’s former campaign workers, including his campaign manager who also previously served as the speaker’s chief of staff at the legislature, were charged last week in the campaign donation investigation, which is ongoing.
“We also have to face the facts here, Lisa. You have a grand jury investigation going on right now into your business,” Bernier said. “We just don’t know what’s going to come of that. Are we going to take Donovan’s greatest weakness off the table in November?”
Bernier said doing so would be a huge “strategic blunder” for the Republican Party.
Mark Greenberg, the developer from Litchfield, declined to “jump on Lisa,” but added that “it would be nice to have a determination before Aug. 14.”
Sen. Andrew Roraback, the convention endorsed Republican, wasn’t bashful about the subject.
“I don’t think there can be any question in the minds of any Republican in Connecticut that the candidate the Democrats are rooting for is Lisa Wilson-Foley,” Roraback said. “She’ll be the one candidate who doesn’t have in her tool box the ability to call Chris Donovan out for his ethical indiscretions.”
Notably, despite Roraback’s statement during Monday’s debate, federal authorities have yet to produce any evidence to suggest that Donovan has taken part directly in any unethical or illegal behavior. The speaker has denied any knowledge of the wrongdoings alleged in the federal indictments announced last week.
Wilson-Foley said there seems to be some confusion about the federal investigation that is focused on Rowland’s relationship with her husband’s company, but not her campaign.
“We feel very confident that the facts and the truth will come back positive for this campaign,” Wilson-Foley said.
The next question allowed the two candidates to pile onto Wilson-Foley: Should Medicare reimbursements to nursing homes be increased and how would they pay for it.
Roraback said that in 2005 when Chris Murphy, who currently represents the 5th District, chaired the Public Health Committee in the General Assembly, Wilson-Foley advocated for an additional 6 percent tax on nursing home patients.
“She advocated for that tax because it would make money for her and her family at the expense of consumers,” Roraback said. “It should come as no surprise that less than a year later Lisa Wilson-Foley gave $2,800 to Chris Murphy, the individual who chaired the committee that passed the tax that put money in her pocket.”
Wilson-Foley denied that she’s in the nursing home business. She said it’s her husband who owns the nursing home. She owns rehabilitation companies, rather than nursing homes.
“Lisa you can’t say one day you’re the head of Apple Rehab and another day say you have nothing to do with it,” Bernier said. “You can’t one day be in commercials for Apple Rehab . . . and then in the next breath say you have nothing to do with Apple Rehab.”
Wilson-Foley, who was seated next to Bernier, continued to deny she had anything to do with her husband’s nursing home business.
“I don’t own Apple Rehab,” Wilson-Foley said. “My husband would kill me if I said that.”
After the debate Wilson-Foley explained that Apple Rehab Sport Spa in Avon is owned by AllStar Therapy, which is one of her rehabilitation companies, not to be confused with Apple Rehab her husband’s nursing home companies.
She said she’s never been in the nursing home business and has never testified before a legislative committee. She said her opponents know this and are just trying to confuse the issue.
Wilson-Foley’s campaign manager, Chris Syrek, said the attacks of his candidate prove she’s the frontrunner.
“I think we’re in a very strong position heading into Aug. 14 primary,” Syrek said. “I think that was demonstrated on stage today.”
The four Republicans will debate again on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Newtown’s Town Hall.