Republican gubernatorial candidate Michael Fedele today began airing a commercial that criticizes the GOP front runner, Tom Foley, for making $20 million as his Georgia textile manufacturer, the Bibb Company, slid into bankruptcy.

The ad is a frontal assault on the cornerstone of Foley’s campaign: his acumen as a businessman who became rich acquiring the Bibb and other companies in the 1980s.

It features former mill workers who blame Foley for destroying their Columbus, Ga., company, which was the largest textile manufacturer in the United States. One elderly woman looks into the camera and says, “I would not want him as governor.”

Foley ad

The commercial is Fedele’s effort to strip Foley of support that a recent Quinnipiac poll found to be wide, yet shallow. His lead was 35 points, but three quarters of Republicans said they might change their mind before the Aug. 10 primary.

The ad is the first spot of the season that attacks one of the gubernatorial candidates in either race. With $2.5 million in public financing, Fedele can afford to air the commercial enough times so it is seen by most likely voters in the primary.

It contradicts Foley’s suggestions that he bore little or no responsibility for the failure of Bibb, since he had given up control before it closed.

But the commercial, and an accompanying press statement released today, cite media reports at the time that describe Foley being forced from the company during a bankruptcy reorganization that failed to save Bibb.

“Tom Foley bankrupted the Bibb,” says one former worker, Jerri Bardwell, standing with a cane. “We did not just lose our jobs. We lost our town.”

As a camera pans across a ruined mill, Foley appears on a portion of the screen and says, “The Bibb experience will make me a better governor.” The clip is from a recent debate on NBC 30.

A message on the screen then says Foley paid himself $20 million, a reference to fees that Foley says were paid to his management company, NTC Group, not him.

Tommy Pugh, another former worker, appears on camera and says, “I don’t think Tom Foley should make $20 million at the demise of somebody else losing their job.”

The last word is from Juanita Bowen, who tilts her head to the said and says, “I would not want him as governor.”

As her wrinkled visage fades from the screen, another shot of the empty mill comes into focus, followed by the words, “Don’t let Tom Foley do this to Connecticut.”

In a telephone interview, Foley said he did not directly collect any of the $20 million in management fees, though some of the money eventually reached him in the salary he drew from NTC. He said the money paid the salaries of his NTC employees. He estimated his share as no more than 20 percent, or about $4 million.

“I didn’t get any of it directly,” Foley said.

Foley said he expected to respond with his own ad.

“We’re not going to leave this unanswered, but we’re not planning to go negative,” he said.

Foley is the first candidate to win the Republican convention’s endorsement for governor without previously holding elective office. He is an independently wealthy businessman from Greenwich who made a fortune by acquiring and overhauling companies, including BIbb.

He graduated from Harvard Business School in 1979 and went to work for the famed consulting company, McKinsey & Co., and then joined Citicorp Venture Capital to learn the business of acquiring companies. Foley formed NTC Group in 1985 and bought Bibb, a former Citicorp target.

Foley later became a major fundraiser for George W. Bush, who named him ambassador to Ireland.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

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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