How bad a week has prospective Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley had? Bad enough that, even as he doubles down on the unsubstantiated accusations he leveled at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, it’s hard to feel much beyond pity for him.
Foley’s troubles actually began last week, when he announced the formation of his exploratory committee on Primary Day. His announcement largely got buried by primary news, but that’s not a sin. It’s still early, and nobody pays much attention to announcements. There were a few discordant notes, however. First, Foley cynically announced that he was considering taking public financing — despite having bashed fellow Republican Mike Fedele in 2010 for doing just that, and then self-financing most of his own run. He also suggested, without providing evidence, that he lost in 2010 because of voter fraud. Everyone scratched their heads over that one, but let it pass.
But Foley’s nascent exploratory campaign took a turn for the bizarre and confrontational on Sunday, when he fired four very specific allegations at Malloy on WFSB’s Face the State, hosted by Dennis House. Foley accused Malloy of taking a no-show job from Daniel C. Esty, who later became his environmental commissioner, during the 2010 campaign; pressuring the UConn Foundation to fund his trip to China; forcing towns in the bond market to use the firm of his now former legal counsel, Andrew McDonald, and; accused Malloy and his former senior adviser Roy Occhiogrosso of steering a “lucrative” contract to Occhiogrosso’s firm. All of this is pretty serious stuff.
Foley only neglected to bring one thing: any proof at all.
Well, that’s not quite true. Foley said he’d heard it from a number of “sources.” Who were those sources? Foley wouldn’t say.
Still, he was pretty sure this was fine. He said he had “multiple sources” for all of his accusations, and pronounced that this was good enough because “it meets the same standard the media sets for itself.” This is right about where things started to go south.
Reporters started asking questions — of Foley. Who were these sources? How did he know they were telling the truth? Did he have any other evidence? “I didn’t ask for hard evidence,” said Foley to the Mirror. “But these are people who I trust.”
The fact that Foley had been appointed ambassador to Ireland and to a high-profile job in Iraq, despite having zero qualifications for those positions, was contrasted with his allegations about Esty. Foley tried again and again to refocus the spotlight on Malloy, but to no avail.
By midweek, Foley had become the story. On Thursday, Foley dug himself yet deeper with a disastrous radio appearance on WNPR’s “Where We Live,” during which he claimed he’d been vindicated through some mysterious means, got defensive about his Iraq and Ireland jobs, and backed off a little by claiming he was just trying to highlight the appearance of impropriety.
I have to wonder what the Foley campaign was thinking, to do something this politically obtuse. This seems like the kind of announcement week plan that looks fantastic on paper, if nobody actually thinks about it at all. Announce, make accusations, everyone gasps, the villain is defeated, and Foley smugly rides to victory.
What actually happened was that Malloy brushed the accusations off, Foley’s rivals pounced, Republicans cringed, and a few, like former Gov. John G. Rowland, scolded Foley for not bringing any evidence to back his accusations. Foley, who entered the week looking like an affable and sensible, if dull, alternative to Malloy ended it looking desperate and befuddled. He also came into the race looking like a lock for the GOP nomination, buoyed by polls and his strong 2010 showing, but now even that’s anything but certain. The disciplined Foley from 2010 is gone, and suddenly this race is a lot more open.
This isn’t to say that Foley’s bigger points about ethics in Hartford aren’t important. We need to reform ethics standards, and drastically reduce the impact of lobbying money and conflicts of interest on our politics. But Foley’s clumsy, unsubstantiated accusations don’t help his cause at all — quite the opposite. They make ethics accusations, even in cases where they’re substantiated by the facts, seem like cynical politics. This brings us to the real question of the past week: what kind of governor would this man be, since he seems to think nothing of dragging out serious accusations to make a point? And do we really want to risk finding out?
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.