Tom Foley, the Republican front runner for governor, turned on his two GOP rivals Friday night over what he called their “over-the-top attacks and mischaracterizations” about his newly disclosed arrests in 1981 and 1993.

“I hope my opponents will soon see that the citizens of Connecticut are interested in a dialogue about the serious issues facing Connecticut and not events from long ago that have no bearing on who should be Connecticut’s next governor,” Foley said. “I call on them to engage in a substantive dialogue about the issues and stop embarrassing our state with cheap attack politics.”

Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele and Oz Griebel, who trail Foley in the polls, questioned Foley’s fitness for office in reaction to a Hartford Courant report that Foley was arrested in connection with incidents in which he was accused of ramming one car after a party in 1981 and running a car driven by his estranged wife off the road in 1993

They demanded Foley release sealed records in the 1981 case and that he publicly explain the incidents.

Griebel said he stands by his statement and his call for a fuller explanation by Foley. The Fedele campaign said Foley does not dispute that he was twice arrested and jailed once, if for only a night.

“These facts are clear but the other questions surrounding his multiple arrests could be answered if he would simply unseal the court records. His refusal to do so suggests he has something to hide and Connecticut can’t afford a governor with ethical clouds hanging over his head,” the campaign said.

Foley, a former U.S. ambassador to Ireland, told The Mirror on Friday evening that as someone subjected to an FBI background check and a Senate review for his diplomatic post, he already has been vetted for public office.

He later released a written statement accusing his opponents of mischaracterizing the events, particularly Griebel’s references to allegations of domestic violence.

“Today’s Hartford Courant article reveals very real and serious concerns about Tom Foley’s judgment, temperament and the significant personal baggage he brings to the race,” Griebel said in his earlier statement.  “Connecticut needs a leader with a proven track record of real results who can turn around our economy and restore fiscal sanity in Hartford, not a politically opportunistic millionaire whose record includes bankrupting companies and an arrest history of domestic violence allegations.”

“Mr. Foley needs to come clean and authorize the release of court records relating to his arrest and imprisonment and explain the discrepancies in the various accounts of his second arrest so voters can know the full truth about these troubling incidents,” Fedele said.

The “imprisonment” refers to a night Foley spent in jail after his arrest in the 1981 incident, in which he says he accidentally struck another car after a party. The occupants told police they were rammed. Foley, then 29, was charged with assault, but he told the paper that the charges were dropped without any settlement on his part.

Foley said there are no discrepancies or unanswered questions in story by Jon Lender of The Courant, and he reacted strongly to Griebel’s reference to “domestic violence.” Foley called the story fair.

“There was no suggestion in Jon Lender’s article that domestic violence was involved in either of these incidents and I categorically deny that any domestic violence occurred between me and my former wife at any time before, during, or after our marriage. To raise that specter publicly without any evidence is a shameful lack of fair play in the public domain,” Foley said in his written statement.

Foley was arrested on an attempted assault charge in June 1981 after a motor-vehicle collision after leaving a party in Southampton, N.Y., on Long Island.

He said both he and his ex-wife, Lisa Foley, were charged with breach of peace in the 1993 incident, which involved an argument over whether Lisa Foley had violated the terms of a child custody agreement.

“My opponents should be ashamed of their false and intemperate remarks which raise serious questions about their truthfulness and personal characters. In the 1981 incident I was retained in a police cell overnight until an attorney could arrive from New York City. Characterizing this as imprisonment is misleading and mischievous,” Foley said in his statement.

In 1993, Foley’s then-estranged wife told police he forced her off the road as she left his home in Greenwich with their young son. Foley acknowledged pursuing her in his car, because she had not disclosed where she was taking the boy, but he denied forcing her off the road, The Courant reported.

The Courant reported that both incidents were included in a binder of documents and allegations that Foley’s former wife provided in 2002 to the office of then-Gov. John G. Rowland. In 2002, Foley was serving on a state task force on child custody issues.

Griebel said the statement by Foley’s ex-wife described a physical confrontation.

In a telephone interview with The Mirror, Foley said neither incident came up during his interview by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when President George W. Bush nominated him as ambassador to Ireland in 2006. He said he did not make a point of disclosing the two arrests, but he was subject to a detailed FBI background investigation.

“To be an ambassador, you have to have a top-secret clearance,” said Foley, who also was a Bush administration appointee to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003, overseeing the nation’s state-owned businesses. “I’m sure they were aware of both the incidents, and it was not a problem for them.”

In statement issued by his campaign, Foley questioned how the binder send to the Rowland administration had become public.

“Both of these incidents came to light as a result of a letter my former wife wrote to the Governor’s office in 2002 at a time when our relationship was particularly strained. I first heard about the letter yesterday afternoon after it was leaked to the Hartford Courant. The circumstances of how a confidential document from the Governor’s office was leaked to the press and by whom raise serious questions,” Foley said.

Foley, 58, remarried last year and his wife, Leslie Fahrenkopf, is pregnant. The baby is due in December. She is a lawyer for the News Corporation and a former associate White House counsel during the administration of George W. Bush.

On Thursday, he had joked about diapers after a campaign event.

“We’re very excited,” said Foley, whose son from his first marriage is 19. “I haven’t changed a diaper in 19 years. I’m signing up for remedial diaper-changing lessons.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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