Bridgeport – Republican Tom Foley was full of surprises Tuesday as he took the first formal steps in his 2014 bid for governor in the Democratic city where the last votes were counted in his tantalizingly close loss to Democrat Dannel P. Malloy in 2010.
Foley, 61, a Greenwich businessman who underwrote most of his 2010 campaign with $11 million of his own funds, said he is considering seeking public financing, a step to neutralize criticism about trying to buy the office.
He also created an exploratory committee, rather than committing himself to the race with a candidate committee, a common tactic in the era of public financing, but unexpected of a former GOP nominee who has seemed intent on a rematch since losing by just 6,404 votes in 2010.
By turns, Foley was playful and scathing. Explaining his choice of Bridgeport, he smiled and described himself as “a forgiving person,” but he was blistering in his appraisal of the Democrat who bested him.
Foley, a major GOP fundraiser who was George W. Bush’s ambassador to Ireland, attacked Malloy’s fiscal and economic policies and his integrity, accusing the former Stamford mayor of trading favors with friends. He refused to offer specifics.
“It is a loaded claim,” Foley acknowledged later, taking questions from reporters. “We’ll give you the facts to back it up at another time. There’s more than one instance.”
Malloy declined to engage Foley, but an adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, said Foley was “cowardly and irresponsible” in making the claim without specifics. Occhiogrosso said, “He should put up or shut up.”
Foley backtracked from what was universally received in 2010 as a remarkably gracious concession speech. In 2010, Foley went out of his way to say that voting irregularities in Bridgeport, where the vote count took three days, should not undermine the legitimacy of Malloy’s election.
On Tuesday, Foley said fraud cost him victory.
“I believe if all voter fraud had been eliminated in 2010, I would have won the election,” Foley said.
In 2010, Foley struck a markedly different tone: “So the election Tuesday, although very close, was a conclusive victory for Dan Malloy, and this result should not be questioned. I hope my supporters accept my word on this.”
Foley said Tuesday a recount would not have changed the result, so Malloy’s victory was legitimate.
His intention to qualify for public financing, which requires raising $250,000 in donations of no more than $100, surprised Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola and Chris Healy, who was chairman in 2010. Both were in attendance, as was Martha Dean, the 2010 nominee for attorney general.
Foley was a sharp critic of public financing in 2010 when his chief primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele, and his general election foe, Malloy, were supported by public funds. But he now says it may be impractical to run without it.
Foley left open whether he would ultimately accept public financing. With the ability to write million-dollar checks, Foley can afford to delay a decision on financing, keeping Malloy and his GOP rivals off balance.
“I want to show that I can qualify for public financing just like others. It may make more sense to take that than to finance the traditional way,” Foley said.
To participate in the voluntary public financing program, Foley would have to follow strict spending limits: The public grants will be about $1.25 million for a primary and $6 million for a general election, with the precise amounts to be calculated next year based on inflation.
His main three competitors for the nomination all intend to seek public financing. They are Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton.
Joseph Visconti of West Hartford, a former council member, also is running. Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti has told reporters he will run, but he has not created an exploratory or candidate committee.
McKinney is a declared candidate, while Boughton and Boucher have formed exploratory committees, a step that provides important interim funding. No public financing grant is available until next May, after the GOP convention.
“This is our A team that’s come forward,” Labriola said.
The attraction is a first-term governor judged to be vulnerable. In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 44 percent of voters said Malloy deserves re-election and 46 percent said he doesn’t.
The GOP chairman said his goal would be for the party to agree on a “consensus candidate,” without a primary.
In 2010, Foley won a three-way primary with 42 percent of the vote, beating Fedele, the lieutenant governor who had 39 percent, by 3,808 votes. Oz Griebel, a Hartford business leader, finished third with 19 percent.
Foley’s announcement was devoid of stagecraft. He stepped to a podium in a small conference room in a community center, then had to delay his announcement while television photographers struggled to adjust lighting so it would not reflect off a window behind him.
He had no visible staff, although Justin Clark of West Hartford, his top strategist in 2010, was among the supporters in the crowded room.
“I have a perfect radio face,” Foley said, waiting for the TV crews.
He opened with a barbed joke, acknowledging that his audience may be wondering why he was making his announcement in Bridgeport, one of the cities that produced huge pluralities for Malloy, offsetting Foley’s success in many suburbs and small towns.
“It’s not because I was going to be here any way, looking one last time for that missing bag of 7,000 Foley votes from 2010,” Foley said. “Or that I am here registering my 2-year-olds for 2014. And although I’m a forgiving person, its not forgiveness that brings me here.”
Foley was taking a stab at undermining the Democrat’s base, accusing him of hewing to “a progressive agenda” that’s stifled economic development and harmed the urban centers. He hinted at an urban policy, without articulating one.
The exploratory candidate said his policy statements would come later.
“I will be spending a lot of time in Connecticut cities listening to residents’ problem and helping to craft solutions,” he said.
He accused the governor of cherry-picking statistics to put a gloss on a weak economy, and he ridiculed a cornerstone of Malloy’s economic development policy: a deep state investment in bioscience at the University of Connecticut medical school and in a research institute for the private nonprofit Jackson Laboratory.
“Dan Malloy is trying to dress up this pig with Malloy math and fibbery. Don’t believe it,” Foley said. “This pig is so ugly it can’t be made pretty. The story is simply too grim.”
Democrats say they are ready to debate the steps Malloy has taken to erase an inherited deficit, compared to what Foley promised in 2010.
“To read Tom Foley’s speech is like reading Alice in Wonderland. It’s interesting, but it’s also untrue,” said Jonathan Harris, executive director of the Connecticut Democrats. “It kind of reminds me of Mr. Foley’s 2010 campaign, when he proposed eliminating a $3.5 billion budget deficit with $2 billion in cuts, many of them ones that had no chance of being achieved.”