NBC Connecticut’s Gerry Brooks reminded television viewers five times that Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley declined to attend Thursday’s debate 12 days before the election.
An empty chair was left on the studio set until 15 minutes before the debate started just in case Foley changed his mind. He didn’t.
Brooks said Foley’s campaign never objected to the format of the debate, while Foley’s spokesman offered a statement saying they were unable to come to terms with NBC Connecticut.
After last week’s debate, Foley said “I think in the end it came down to mostly a communication problem. We couldn’t even get NBC 30 to respond to us. So, we have to make our plans, we have to understand what we’re doing.”
So while Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Joe Visconti were debating the issues for an hour, Foley was at a rival news station taping an interview, according to his campaign spokesman.
Foley’s campaign Tweeted a picture of Foley in WFSB’s studio “Great to be in studio w/@DennisHouseWFSB to film #facethestate. #ctgov”
During the NBC Connecticut debate, Malloy told viewers if they don’t agree with him, they should vote for third-party candidate Joe Visconti.
“I respect Joe. We may have disagreements, but at least he tells you what he’s going to do,” Malloy said in closing out the debate. “Tom Foley has been dancing around issues for many months now. If you believe that I was wrong about guns, then this is the guy, Joe Visconti, that you should be voting for. If you believe I’ve been wrong on some of the other issues that Joe has talked about then he’s the person you should be voting for.”
Asked after the debate Malloy said he wasn’t endorsing Visconti, “I fundamentally disagree with him on many issues. But he’s a decent guy and he tells you what he wants and what he wants to do and he shows up. Showing up is half the battle.”
Malloy said Foley’s absence wasn’t about a scheduling conflict.
“It’s rather unusual for people to before they’re in office to be breaking these kinds of promises,” Malloy said.
Following the debate, Visconti complimented the governor for showing up to a debate against a petitioning candidate.
“I think it’s historic where a governor would come for a petitioning candidate,” Visconti said. “Again, I’m Republican and we don’t get along on many issues, but it was great that he was here.”
Visconti said he wished that Malloy focused more on the issues and the questions rather than offering comparisons between his record and Foley’s positions on issues.
Visconti maintained that he can win this election despite the pressure from groups and members of the Republican Party who have tried to get him to drop out. They are afraid he will play the role of spoiler even though polling data shows he takes votes evenly from both major party candidates.
“I think the governor’s underestimating me that we can’t pull it off at the 11th hour,” Visconti, who is polling at 9 percent, said.
Visconti, a former West Hartford councilman, said he wanted the information about the coming budget deficits delivered to the public.
“I wanted the people to hear what’s coming. It is coming. The governor never answered the question, so we’ll pin him down. Maybe Tom Foley will have the political sense to grab this. He has the money,” Visconti said. “They’re fighting a war of personalities.”
Malloy said it was “disrespectful” for Foley to sit out the sixth debate.
“I think it’s a missed opportunity to have a real discussion in a different kind of context,” Malloy said. “We’re not standing behind things. We’re having a real conversation.”
Malloy rattled off all the things Foley has declined to speak about on the campaign trail.
“Tom’s got a lot of things he doesn’t want to talk about, I just wish he was here so I didn’t have to remind you of all the positions Tom’s taken,” Malloy said.
Visconti got frustrated with Malloy’s continued references to Foley.
“The governor’s here tonight speaking about Tom Foley a lot and I’d wish he would get back to some of the issues,” Visconti said. “And that’s spending.”
Visconti tried to redirect the conversation back to the $1.278 billion budget deficit projected for the next fiscal year.
“I believe that we’re going to have to have some tax increases even though that’s the last thing any one of us here on this stage want to do,” Visconti said. “We need to be real with people because some people can’t afford to live here anymore.”
Malloy pushed back and refused to say there would be a deficit. He said he doesn’t budget for inflation and under his administration spending has only gone up an average of 2.8 percent per year.
“Let me be very clear, there will not be a deficit, nor will there be a tax increase,” Malloy said. “I never took a pledge not to raise taxes last time because I knew what was wrong with Connecticut and that it was going to take shared sacrifice to solve.” He added that when he first took office, the state’s finances were in worse shape than they had anticipated during the 2010 campaign.
Visconti wanted to know where the governor was going to cut services because at the current rate of spending Connecticut will continue to face deficits.
“We’re going to have to unload some of the great things we have been doing for decades and we’re going to have to look at what’s essential: the disabled, veterans, education, infrastructure,” Visconti said.