Rancor rising over Fedele attack ads

Katherine Carver insists she’d never heard of Greenwich Republican Tom Foley, his gubernatorial bid, or his former ownership of a Georgia textile mill until moments before she was asked to denounce him on camera over the mill’s closure.

But Jerri Broadwell said she gladly participated in the production of two attack ads aired by one of Foley’s rivals, Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele, because she remains convinced Foley’s selfish business practices ruined the plant where she worked and community where she lives.

Feuding over the accuracy and ethics of Fedele’s ads escalated Thursday, a day after Foley charged in a televised debate that the Georgians shown in the spots had been coached about their statements and treated to lunch.

The Fedele campaign repeated Thursday that the commercials stem from well-documented details behind the closure of a  plant near Columbus, Ga. that had employed residents for nearly 100 years, that Foley played a key role in its failure – and that the community was eager to speak out about it.

But Carver said Thursday she had responded to an ad in The Ledger-Enquirer of Columbus that invited residents to be interviewed about Bibb City, without mentioning a Connecticut political campaign.

“I tried to tell them I didn’t know who this Mr. Foley was,” Carver said. “I told them I don’t know anything about it.”

Carver, 73, said she thought she was being asked to speak about the history of Bibb City, a former town in Muscogee County in west central Georgia. The community, once centered on the textile industry, had a population of just over 500 in 2000, when it dissolved its charter and was incorporated into Columbus – two years after the mill closed.

“I was under the impression they wanted some information about the city itself,” she said, adding that on her arrival, representatives of the Fedele campaign cited details about Foley’s history with the plant, and asked her to respond. “They would just about tell me what to say.”

In the commercial in which she appeared, she said of Foley, “I don’t see how he can help anyone by running for governor.”

Fedele has charged Foley earned millions of dollars in his final years owning the plant, which he held from 1985 through 1996. The Bibb plant filed for bankruptcy in 1996.

Foley’s management company, NTC Group, received about $20 million in payments from The Bibb mill during its final five years. Foley said these were payments for payroll, human resource and other services rendered. But Fedele argued these excessive management fees really represented big profits for Foley and weakened the plant such that two years later, under new management, it closed and thousands were left unemployed.

Fedele campaign spokesman Christopher Cooper said that all participants in the ads, prepared by Jamestown Associates of Princeton, N.J., were informed they were making campaign commercials and signed releases allowing their comments to be aired.

When asked why she responded on camera to statements about Foley, and why she signed the release, Carver said she regretted not speaking up. “I guess I should have stopped them and said I really didn’t want to do it,” she said.

“That is typical of what I’m hearing about this,” Foley said, adding he spoke Thursday by telephone with another elderly participant who conveyed a similar regret. She could not be reached by The Mirror for comment Thursday.

Albert Caldwell, 77, of Georgia, said he also had responded to the newspaper ad. After a telephone screening interview in which he praised Foley for instituting a 401(k) retirement savings plan, Caldwell said, he was told he would not be needed.

“They made it clear they didn’t want to talk to me when I said he was a good man,” said Caldwell, who worked 37 years overseeing a cloth inspection unit at the mill, retiring in 1990.

Cooper said he didn’t know why Carver was interviewed after admitting she had never heard of Foley, but said her example doesn’t detract from what was a clear message from the community.

“It’s typical of Tom Foley to take one person out of all those interviewed, who misunderstood the intent, and used it as evidence that all of the other people aren’t trying to tell the truth about what we know to be the facts about the mill.”

Between the two ads, six different residents, all senior citizens, offer comments. Four worked at the mill. The other two, Carver and Tommy Pugh of Columbus, had parents who worked at the mill, Cooper said. Pugh could not be reached for comment Friday, but Carver said her parents had left the mills by the late 1970s, which is roughly five years before Foley acquired it.

Broadwell, a former mill worker who said she is incorrectly listed in the ads as “Jerri Bardwell,” said the Fedele campaign representatives were clear and direct with her from the beginning, and she raised complaints that are common in the community.

“I know what he did and I know what I said,” Broadwell said. “I remembered what happened and I told them.”

“Tom Foley bankrupted The Bibb,” Broadwell said in one of the commercials. “We did not just lose our jobs, we lost our town.”

When told about Foley’s charge that participants had been told what to say, she said she was offered no coaching or scripts. “Not one thing,” she said.

Foley also charged during a debate this week that participants in the commercial had enjoyed a “sumptuous lunch.”

Both Carver and Broadwell said they received no food for participating. “Not even a Coca-Cola,” Broadwell added.