Hugh McQuaid photo
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (Hugh McQuaid photo)

NEW HAVEN — Labor delegates embraced Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy during the AFL-CIO’s political convention on Monday during an event that was focused as much on labor laws in Wisconsin as it was on the last four years in Connecticut.

Malloy, a first-term Democrat facing a tough re-election battle, firmly positioned himself on the side of the labor movement during Monday’s convention and tried to shrug off some tough contract negotiations early in his tenure as he was facing a deep budget deficit.

“I stand with labor, I always have, I always will. It goes back to who I am and what I am,” Malloy told the crowded convention room at the Omni Hotel. “. . . Yeah, we’ve had some fights. We’ve had some tough times. When somebody hands you a $3.6 billion deficit and says ‘have at it,’ of course we had to come around a table . . . And I’ve made mistakes and everybody else in this room’s probably made mistakes once or twice in their lives.”

But whatever mistakes Malloy may have made, they seemed distant Monday. The convention’s agenda seemed designed to draw a stark contrast between Malloy and his likely Republican opponent, Tom Foley, who he narrowly defeated in 2010.

Foley addressed the group earlier Monday when he attempted to clarify a remark he made to the Hartford Courant last year about waiting for a “Wisconsin moment” in Connecticut. Foley insists he wants to replicate that state’s flip in control of the state government from Democratic to Republican. He said he was not seeking to replicate the way Republicans drastically scaled back collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin after they were in power.

But the convention was scripted in opposition to any kind of “Wisconsin moment” in Connecticut.

Before Foley had even stepped up to the podium, the delegates had heard from a Wisconsin labor official who left the crowd with little appetite to hear Foley’s clarifications. In fact, they laughed while he was speaking.

“Did I say something funny?” Foley asked.

Meanwhile, Malloy was preceded by national AFSCME President Lee Saunders, who gave a rousing speech that offered at times reserved support for Malloy, but pulled no punches in opposition to Foley.

“We haven’t always agreed with him . . . but the governor’s record of supporting working families is very clear. He consistently supports the right to organize,” Saunders said of Malloy.

“If you don’t want another Wisconsin, then don’t listen to his rhetoric because he will tell you anything then he’ll try to kill you if he gets elected,” Saunders said of Foley.

When Malloy addressed the crowd sometime later he received several standing ovations during his 20-minute speech. He quickly seized upon the Wisconsin theme.

“I am tired of politicians who come around and say just about anything. There are people who would call a ‘Wisconsin moment’ a movement to eat more cheese, I think, as opposed to what it truly is and that’s the attack that you’re under and your members are under,” he said.

Malloy touted the passage of a number of policies for which the labor movement has advocated over the years, including paid sick leave for some workers and increases in the state minimum wage. He signed legislation this year that will see the minimum wage raised to $10.10 by 2017. Malloy acknowledged that union contracts are often tied to the minimum wage and said he was “all for” helping to drive them up.

“We’re just demonstrating for the rest of the country what a Connecticut moment is,” Malloy told the crowd. “A Connecticut moment is when we stand up for rest of our citizens — understand they too have rights — and move forward together.”

After Malloy’s remarks, the delegates passed a “We are not Wisconsin!” resolution, rejecting that state’s labor policies.

“Note that it was unanimous, we are not Wisconsin,” AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Lori Pelletier said.

The convention will reconvene Tuesday morning when the group will officially endorse a candidate for governor.