GOP gubernatorial hopeful Tom Foley charged back into unfriendly territory Monday to the chorus of a newly acquired musical running mate—the man they call The Boss.
Less than a month ago, on May 18, Foley told the Independent he wasn’t into The Boss, aka Bruce Springsteen, the Jersey-born rocker whom Ronald Reagan and other Republicans have tried to claim for their own.
He changed that tune Monday, cuing up Springsteen’s classic hit “Born To Run” as he climbed the stage to make a campaign pitch.
Foley had a reason: He was heading into The Boss’s base, a hall of union members and union leaders. People who didn’t like Tom Foley’s song when he ran for governor four years ago. Four years later Foley’s running for governor again, against the man who beat him last time, Democrat Dannel P. Malloy. And while labor leaders remain solidly against him, some of the rank and file might be up for grabs.
The union members assembled Monday at the Omni Hotel for the first day of a political convention of AFL-CIO Connecticut, which represents 200,000 workers across the state, most of them state and municipal government employees. The union heard from Foley and Malloy, the Republican and Democratic party-endorsed candidates, on Monday and plans to endorse a candidate for governor Tuesday. (Jonathan Pelto, who’s running as an independent, said the convention organizers refused to let him speak.) Foley has no chance of winning the endorsement; instead he is hoping to win the hearts of some rank-and-file delegates.
Malloy beat Foley in 2010 in part due to the strong support of organized labor. Now Malloy has alienated some rank-and-file union members due to concessions the governor forced to labor agreements, and remarks he made about tenure that enraged teachers. Foley, who lost by just 6,404 votes in 2010, is hoping to capitalize on that alienation to defeat Malloy in November.
In a speech Monday on the convention floor, Foley sought to clarify a recent call he made for a “Wisconsin moment” in Connecticut. In doing so, he sought to dispel fears that he would dismantle collective bargaining. One Democratic observer called his remarks “savvy,” while delegates laughed and snickered at his remarks.
Foley arrived at the convention shortly past 11 a.m., accompanied by a sergeant in arms—and by Springsteen’s “Born To Run.” He sat and took a sip from a glass of water. Then he rose to address a skeptical audience.
Foley, a millionaire Greenwich businessman who was George W. Bush’s ambassador to Ireland, began his speech by trying to tap into some of the working-class cred that Springsteen has become known for through his songs about every-day Americans.
Foley recounted how, at age 17, he dropped out of school. He “headed West with fifty dollars” and his parents’ blessing. He ended up in Colorado. He got a job—a union job, he noted—on a construction site, building a bridge. Then he worked in factory making soda and beer cans—another union job. He didn’t like that job as much, he recalled, because the supervisor was “a bit of a bully.”
“I’ll never forget that work experience,” Foley said.
Foley went on to explain how he’d be the working man’s ally in the governor’s seat. He vowed to hold state spending flat for two years—but not by reopening state workers’ contracts.
“A deal is a deal,” he said of the contracts. He said he could “bring back jobs” by making Connecticut easier to do business with.
“I can fix the budget without layoffs,” he further pledged. “I make that commitment to you today.”
Then he explained why he has called for a “Wisconsin moment” in Connecticut.
“Looking for a Wisconsin moment in Connecticut, which I’ve talked about repeatedly, means that I am hoping we go away from one-party rule to more balanced government, as Wisconsin did in 2010,” Foley said.
He said Democrats have misconstrued what he meant: “It does not mean I will change the way collective bargaining works in our state.”
Delegates laughed out loud at Foley’s explanation.
“Did I say something funny?” Foley asked, sounding earnest. He later asked a reporter the same question.
Foley was referring to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who in 2011 settled a budget crisis by ending workers’ rights to collective bargaining. Walker led a Republican takeover of the governor’s mansion in 2010, at a time when Democrats had controlled the executive and legislative branches of government. During a dramatic showdown in 2011 between Walker and the Democrat-controlled state house, Walker became a national figure lauded by fiscal conservatives and vilified by union advocates.
Foley parised Walker for ending Democratic one-party rule; he didn’t mention that Walker replaced that by one-party rule by Republicans.
Ned Lamont (second from right), a Democrat who addressed the same convention when he ran for governor in 2010, returned Monday to observe the proceedings. He said he wanted to see Malloy speak; he showed up hours early to see Foley as well.
Lamont declared Foley a “much savvier candidate” in 2014 than in 2010.
“He knew exactly why this crowd turned out in spades opposed to him four years ago,” Lamont said. Foley had previously pledged to rein in the cost of government by lowering the costs of state pensions and health benefits, Lamont recalled.
“Four years ago, labor was convinced he was going to be Scott Walker in Wisconsin,” Lamont said. He said in Foley’s appearance Monday, Foley sought to “disabuse people of that” notion.
“I don’t think they quite thought that he was credible,” Lamont said.
Bob Parziale, an AFSCME Council 4 service representative who lives in Waterbury, agreed. Parziale said he was one of the people who vocally rejected Foley’s explanation of his “Wisconsin moment” explanation.
“I snickered,” Parziale confessed. “I don’t trust a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“I believe he would destroy collective bargaining in this state,” he said of Foley. “That’s exactly what the ‘Wisconsin moment’ means. The ‘Wisconsin moment’ destroyed collective bargaining for the state of Wisconsin.”
Parziale, who has been a member of a union since age 16, called Bruce Springsteen “one of my favorite artists.” Springsteen speaks to the heart of the “blue-collar, hard-working” experience of people in places like Waterbury.
Parziale was outraged that Foley chose a Springsteen tune as his entrance song.
“He said something in May” about not being a Springsteen fan, “and then he literally changed his tune a month later?” Parziale asked incredulously.
On May 18, Foley was asked about Ronald Reagan’s 1984 assertion that “America’s future ... rests in the message of hope” in the songs of Springsteen. “I’m not familiar enough with Bruce Springsteen’s music to know whether that’s the case or not,” Foley replied. Foley said he missed the Springsteen craze. “I sort of skipped from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones” to “more modern stuff” like U2, Maroon 5, Train, and Coldplay.
Foley was asked Monday why he chose to enter the room to Springsteen.
Foley said convention organizers asked his campaign which song he’d like to walk into, and “someone in my campaign chose that song.”
He was asked about his remarks one month ago that he isn’t a Springsteen fan.
“I was today,” Foley replied.
He quickly elaborated: “I didn’t say I wasn’t a Bruce fan. I said that in that period of my life, I wasn’t listening to as much music as I did before and I have since.”
Cue To Petty
Malloy walked into the convention Monday afternoon to the tune of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” Delegates rose to their feet to applaud him. Malloy motioned them to sit back down.
He instantly referenced Foley’s “Wisconsin moment” remark.
“We’re going to have a Connecticut moment,” he declared.
Foley’s call for a “Wisconsin moment,” Malloy charged, is all about attacking unions.
“There are people who call a ‘Wisconsin moment’” a “movement to eat more cheese,” Malloy said. “Let’s call it what it is.”
Foley “knew what it meant” when he said it, Malloy later elaborated. “You can’t backtrack from it.”
“What he was talking about was going after organized labor, which I equate to going after the middle class of the United States,” Malloy said.
Delegates didn’t snicker or laugh at Malloy. The got on their feet and clapped when he touted work Connecticut has done to raise the minimum wage. He also touted a new law that guarantees workers paid sick days. And he told his own working-class union narrative—this one about his mother, who worked as a school nurse and organized a union of her coworkers. That union is now part of AFSCME, which is part of the AFL-CIO, Malloy noted.
“I stand with labor,” Malloy declared to delegates. “I always have. I always will.”