GOP’s Foley walks into Democratic stronghold

Democrat Dan Malloy visited the Connecticut AFL-CIO on Monday to seal the deal on the labor federation’s endorsement today of his candidacy for governor. Republican Tom Foley came with no expectations.

After sitting out the Democratic primary for governor, the AFL-CIO is preparing to turn out its members on behalf of Malloy and the entire Democratic ticket, with a special focus on governor.

“I don’t come here for an endorsement,” a smiling Foley said in the lobby of the Hartford Hilton, after addressing delegates to the federation’s biennial political convention.


Tom Foley at the AFL-CIO convention: No expectations (Mark Pazniokas)

Then he won’t be disappointed.

The AFL-CIO today is certain to endorse Malloy for governor over Foley and Democrat Richard Blumenthal for U.S. Senate over Republican Linda McMahon, who did not address the convention.

The federation’s close relationship with the Democratic Party is embodied in its longtime president, John W. Olsen. He is a former Democratic state chairman and a present member of the Democratic National Committee.

U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, who was general chairman of the Democratic National Committee under Bill Clinton, addressed the delegates in the morning, telling them he wasn’t interested in any long goodbyes as he prepares to leave office after 30 years in the Senate and six years in the U.S. House.

“I’m not going to go off and die on Jan. 3,” Dodd said, laughing.

The keynote speaker was Howard Dean, the former Democratic national chairman. In the lobby, U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney, D-2nd District, mingled with delegates. U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy, D-5th District, had an information table, as did Courtney.

Foley, a Greenwich businessman, was the last candidate to address the convention.

“I understand the valuable role unions play in our economy,” Foley told the 400 delegates. “We have so much common ground between us.”

That common ground included his brief membership in a labor union–whose name he could not remember–when he worked in an aluminum can factory as a teenager.

Foley lingered after addressing the delegates to meet private with unionized firefighters and police officers.

“They were curious about what a Foley administration would mean for them,” Foley said. “I wasn’t asking for an endorsement. They weren’t offering it.”

Foley was politely received.

“I think it was good he came,” said Bill Tyszkas, a retired AFSCME member from Simsbury. “We’re a very big house, the house of labor.”

But Foley did not impress a union member who heard the candidate talk about his union membership, yet could not remember the union to which he belonged.

“You don’t forget what union you belonged to,” said Steve Curran, a unionized correction officer.

During an interview with The Mirror in February, Foley recalled his union membership with less than enthusiasm.

Did he think his pay was better under a union contract?

“I don’t know,” he said, smiling. “They did take dues out of my check. I did notice that.”

Malloy AFL-CIO

A warm welcome for Dan Malloy and Nancy Wyman at the AFL-CIO convention (Mark Pazniokas)

Malloy entered Hilton ballroom to a standing ovation, welcomed as the best hope of putting a Democrat in the governor’s office for the first time since William A. O’Neill left office in January 1991.

“Let’s get ready and elect the first Democratic governor in a generation,” Malloy said.

Malloy had extensive organized labor support in his primary against Ned Lamont, which Malloy won last week with 58 percent of the vote.

Malloy referred to Lamont as his “noble opponent,” setting aside negative ads that dominated the closing weeks of the campaign. He said he looked forward to working with Lamont.

The number of union households in Connecticut has been shrinking, but Malloy said that labor remains an important constituency, both its members and its aspirations for working men and women.

He said labor has been ignored for too long, “turned away from the gates of government.”

“Those days are over. A new day has begun. It began on primary night. It continues on this Monday,” Malloy said. “It will go through September and October and on Nov. 2, we together will have a resounding victory. I need you. I need you to get my message out.”

Foley and the Republicans are expected to portray Malloy as too close to labor in a time when the next governor will have to impose fiscal discipline on state government, which may include seeking concessions from state employees.

Malloy waved off questions about whether he needs to show some independence of labor.

“From time to time I am going to remind you that I ran with some labor support, but not monolithic support,” Malloy told reporters after this speech. ” I had more support than I did four years ago, because I almost had none. These are different times.”