Foley campaign, think tank both push urban agenda

Tom Foley speaking at a Connecticut Policy Institute event last year.

CT Mirror

Tom Foley speaking at a Connecticut Policy Institute event last year.

The Connecticut Policy Institute, a think tank founded by Republican Tom Foley after his loss in the 2010 race for governor, is launching an urban issues project Friday that reinforces an element of Foley’s new gubernatorial campaign.

Foley will introduce the project at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, once again inviting skepticism about the institute’s assertion that its goal is to promote public policy, not the political ambitions of its founder.

“Tom founded the CPI to be an independent voice for good policy in the state, and he no longer has any formal connection to the Institute,” the organization says on its website.

But the new initiative complements what Foley says will be a key element of his campaign: addressing issues of special interest to urban voters, an effort to draw some votes from the Democratic base. Foley announced his exploratory committee in Bridgeport and formally launched his campaign in Waterbury.

Foley said the confluence of interests does not lessen the value of the institute’s research, nor would the embrace of its work by his campaign.

“There is nothing wrong with either effort,” Foley said.

Opposing camps in both parties see things differently.

“Let’s stop calling it a policy institute or let’s put the policy institute in quotation marks, one or the other,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, a Democratic political strategist and adviser to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “It is an organization that exists to further Tom Foley’s goals, plain and simple.”

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a rival of Foley’s for the Republican nomination for governor, said it is difficult to seriously view the institute as independent of Foley’s campaign.

Ben Zimmer, the executive director of Connecticut Policy Institute, said three policy papers will be presented Friday on jobs, crime and housing. They are an effort to provoke public debate, not promote Foley, he said.

“I was involved with some papers in the editing, but it’s not mine. It’s not my work,” Foley said. “Some of the things may become part of the urban policy recommendations I make and others may not.”

Zimmer said the institute’s association with Foley is no secret.

“Look, Tom founded the institute. That’s something we’ve never hidden from view,” Zimmer said. “I’ve tried to be and have succeeded to be upfront about what his role has been and what his role hasn’t been. I’m proud of the association with Tom.”

Zimmer said Republican and Democratic members of the General Assembly were invited to the event Friday, though not Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Democrat who narrowly defeated Foley.

“Members of his staff are on our distribution list. We’d certainly love to have him there. We’ve invited him to a lot of things in the past. He’s declined,” Zimmer said. “You only ask so many times.”

Ben Zimmer, executive director of the Connecticut Policy Institute.

CT Mirror

Ben Zimmer, executive director of the Connecticut Policy Institute.

Zimmer said the papers were written by the institute’s staff, with contributions from others.

“A large number of people more informally contributed ideas to the papers,” Zimmer said. “Tom was one of those.”

New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman contributed to a paper on crime. Clarine Nardi Riddle, who was chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, contributed to a paper on jobs. Nardi Riddle is on the institute’s advisory board, as is Lieberman.

“Theories are nice, but the reality is that mayors, particularly a mayor like myself, you understand what makes a city tick,” Boughton said.

Boughton said he wasn’t invited.

The institute is based in a one-room office off the New Haven Green. Its website lists a staff of eight, seven of whom are Yale students or graduates, including Zimmer. Foley said their work should be evaluated on the merits, not through the prism of his campaign.

Zimmer is a graduate of Yale Law School and, like Foley, a graduate of both Harvard and McKinsey & Co.

Last year, Lieberman said his contribution to the Connecticut Policy Institute has been lending his name, an expression of gratitude for the backing he received from Republicans who supported him after losing the Democratic primary in 2006.

“He called me,” Lieberman said of Foley. “So I’ve known him a little over the years. To be really direct, he was one of those people who got involved in my general election campaign in 2006.”

Lieberman said his membership on the advisory committee is not an endorsement of a Foley candidacy for governor or a rebuke to Malloy, a fellow Stamford native.

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