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OP-ED | In The Battle For Governor, Personality Matters

by | Oct 10, 2014 5:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Election 2014, Opinion

For armchair political analysts such as yours truly, this year’s gubernatorial race between incumbent Democrat Dan Malloy and Republican challenger Tom Foley has been a treasure trove of material.

It has been a steaming stew of personality and policy — though far more of the former than the latter. Perhaps that mix, along with enemies made by the candidates over the years, explains the current nastiness of the campaign.

Let’s start with the enemies. Ken Dixon of Hearst Connecticut Newspapers did a terrific job last week of cataloguing Malloy’s brashness, missteps and — some would say — arrogance of his first couple of years.

The former prosecutor and 14-year mayor of Stamford got off on the wrong foot almost immediately. Just after he was elected in 2010 but before he took office, Malloy took the short walk from the Capitol to the Legislative Office Building. He wanted to pay a surprise visit to the House Republicans — a great idea for an incoming Democratic governor who was looking to reach across the aisle and build relationships even before he had proposed a single piece of legislation.

As Malloy strolled along the walkway between the two buildings, Capitol Police officers saluted him and Malloy reciprocated. But he quickly tired of the routine and soon failed to return the officers’ gestures of respect and protocol. As the old saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Couple that with Malloy’s display of brinkmanship in a labor stand-off with the State Police the following year, and you have a recipe for mistrust and dysfunction among law enforcement officials.

Then there was the now-legendary remark Malloy made about teachers in 2012 (“show up for four years and tenure is yours”). The comment provoked howls of outrage among teachers, many of whom said they would never vote for Malloy again, though their two major unions did half-heartedly endorse him recently.

How interesting it was in his interview with Dixon that former Malloy henchman Roy Occhiogrosso blamed himself on the tenure flap, claiming to have authored the offending line. Occhiogrosso, who subsequently left for a lucrative gig in private consulting, has since returned as a top strategist to Malloy’s re-election effort.

“It was totally my fault,” Occhiogrosso told Dixon. “I think about it all the time.”

Think about this. If you’re a governor who had hired a tart-tongued consultant who had drafted a speech that might cost you a re-election bid, would you bring him back in a senior campaign role? Did Occhiogrosso really believe what he wrote or did he just think it was a tactical error? He did not say. No, it looks more and more like Malloyalist Occhiogrosso simply fell on his sword and took one for the team in the hope that the offended teachers would let his boss off the hook.

Then Malloy fell on his own sword, sort of. “I have had to overcome some challenges and maybe that gives rise to a prickly personality, I don’t know,” Malloy told reporters last week after his aggressive performance in a debate with Foley.

Sounds like Malloy came perilously close to blaming his childhood struggles with learning disabilities for his cantankerous personality. Did those struggles some 40 years ago also cause him to hire advisers who insert language into a speech that alienated 40,000 public school teachers? He did not say.

While it does seem trivial to spend time discussing the personalities of candidates for office at the expense of taking a hard look at policy, it is also true that personality can either help public officials realize their policy goals, or wreck them. I’m convinced that Malloy’s personality and choice of words are the major factors that have made this election as close as it is. Blue-state Connecticut is making slow but steady progress recovering from the economic mess Malloy inherited, but swing voters are giving the governor little credit for it.

During last week’s debate with Foley, Malloy sought to further deflect attention away from his personality: “They may have disagreements with me,” Malloy said of his detractors and even his some of his erstwhile supporters. “They may not agree with the policies that I’ve implemented, but they understand that I work really, really hard, sometimes, perhaps, too hard and sometimes perhaps I take the work too seriously.”

That’s a politician’s non-answer when asked what his greatest fault is:

“Well, sometimes I work too hard for the people of Connecticut. And I take all that work I am doing for the people of this great state too seriously.”

With faults like that, who needs attributes?

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(9) Archived Comments

posted by: MGKW | October 10, 2014  8:55am

A couple of points:

I am the son of a NYC school teacher and union chapter chairman…so I do know what and how important tenure is…however, my father was frustrated with defending under-performing teachers that were not up to a certain standard he set for himself. Malloy’s off handed comment may have been politically damaging but many people believe that teachers do need to meet a standard (not sure what that is)in order to continue to teach.

Second, Malloy’s reputation is that he does have a quick trigger and it does sometime get him into trouble with other constituencies and the press. I assume you are also going to write a personality profile of Foley? His cavalier attitude has gotten him into trouble with several people out on the campaign trail and his cynical cry for a truce of personal attacks rings very hollow given that he started the attacks in one of the debates. Go figure.

posted by: thomas hooker | October 10, 2014  9:29am

The CEA “half-heartedly endorsed” Malloy?  Let’s look at the CEA’s actual endorsement:

CEA President Sheila Cohen stated, “Dan Malloy has increased education funds by half a billion dollars, including millions into underperforming schools. He’s the first governor in state history annually to fully fund the teacher pension plan during his term in office. And Governor Malloy would protect our collective bargaining rights completely.” 

In contrast, stated Cohen, “Issues such as public education funding, teacher pensions, and collective bargaining are the priorities we used to examine candidates’ positions. On these issues, Tom Foley sets the state on a path to education disaster, while Dan Malloy provides a better direction for students, teachers, and public education.”

“A CEA analysis indicates that Foley’s scheme would drain more than $35 million from local public schools, causing teacher layoffs and larger class sizes. ‘While a loss of $35 million would be the initial impact, the long-term consequences would even be deeper. Simply put, they would be absolutely destructive,’ said Cohen.”

Seems like a pretty strong endorsement to me.

posted by: thomas hooker | October 10, 2014  9:47am

Let’s see.  Tom Foley goes to Sprague to criticize Malloy administration policies for the closing of Fusion Paperboard.  He doesn’t bother to contact the Sprague first selectman before he goes there, or any other elected officials to find out what really contributed to Fusion’s closing.  But once there, he blames the employees who have lost their jobs for the company’s closure, even though he’s told that the workers had agreed to give-backs for years, and just signed a contract calling for no salary increases.  And he doesn’t know that Governor Malloy had extended a $2 million loan to the company to help it stay in Sprague.

Last year, a New Haven Register editorial titled, “Tom Foley’s shrinking candidacy,” pointed out Foley’s “bizarre comments.”

It continued, “In a news conference announcing his intention to run, Foley lobbed a completely unsubstantiated bombshell at Malloy: If it wasn’t for voter fraud, Foley said, he might have won the 2010 race.

“Pressed for specifics, the best Foley could offer was that voter fraud is a problem throughout the country, including in Connecticut. No evidence of fraud. Not even the slightest hint of where he thought the fraud took place or how it was carried out.

“If Foley had stopped there, the damage to his credibility might have been minimal…

“What followed, though, was a string of head-scratching comments that have taken the focus away from Connecticut’s struggling economy and put it on Foley’s extraordinary lack of judgment.”

Add to that Foley’s ramming a car full of people at speeds of 50 mph, for which he was arrested, and forcing his wife’s car with their infant son on board, off the road, for which, again, he was arrested.  But it is Dannel Malloy whose personality is a problem?

Now that qualifies as “head-scratching.”

posted by: thomas hooker | October 10, 2014  10:11am

I’m sorry, but if we’re talking about personality, shouldn’t voters consider this from Mr. Foley?

According to a column by David Collins of The Day, “Foley told one New Haven journalist, who in an interview kept finding the candidate short on details and knowledge of all kinds of state programs, that as governor he would be captain of the ship, not down cleaning the propellers.

“We know anyway that he’s accustomed to getting his way on a 166-foot yacht. The question may be whether the rest of us expect to be down cleaning his new set of propellers.”

Collins goes on to recount Foley’s actions at T. B. Woods Company, where workers went out on strike for two and a half years soon after Foley acquired the company.  Foley set out to destroy the union, and succeeded.  Collins wrote, “Foley took a family-owned company and changed a friendly atmosphere in which workers and management played on the same softball and bowling leagues, workers told The Sun. He got rid of experienced managers and brought in college-educated managers from out of town, they complained.

“Foley ‘made it impossible for the guys as a union to go back. Once that strike vote was taken, he had it in his mind to break the union,’ one resident of Chambersburg was quoted as saying.

What does that say about Mr. Foley?  What does that say for workers of Connecticut, if Mr. Foley gets into the governor’s mansion?  If we are to consider the candidates’ personalities, let’s consider both of them.

posted by: thomas hooker | October 10, 2014  12:33pm

Terry, I have a problem with this equivalency when it comes to personalities.  Whatever Governor Malloy’s personality might be, look at what he’s accomplished: come into the worst economic downturn in eighty years, and proceeded to balance four straight budgets, while increasing aid to education by a half a billion dollars.  He didn’t eliminate collective bargaining for state workers.  And he didn’t eliminate the teachers pension plan, which Foley and the Republicans have repeatedly stated needs to be done.  Malloy implemented the first in the nation move to $10.10 for the minimum wage, helping pull the state’s 90,000 low-wage workers out of poverty.  He implemented the state’s earned income tax credit that is helping nearly 200,000 low-income working families.  He reacted to the drying up of credit for small businesses by creating the state’s first Small Business Express, which has helped create over 4,400 new jobs.  He overcame the opposition of the gun lobby to push through and sign into law the strongest gun control law in the nation, after which Connecticut has seen a sharp decline in murders.

What do I care about his “personality” when he has accomplished so much for so many?

Mr. Foley’s personality, on the other hand, is a source of concern.  Mr. Foley claims that his business background makes him uniquely qualified to run the state, and better qualified than Governor Malloy.  Yet when we scrutinize his actual business practices, we see him forcing one of his unions into an ugly two and a half year strike, which ended with the destruction of the union, not to mention the destruction of the lives of so many of those striking workers.  We see that he ran into the ground a major American textile business, resulting in thousands of workers losing their jobs.  And while he was doing this, he was making himself tens of millions of dollars.

I disagree that his actions are typical of a “private-equity guy.”  Lots of private investment companies take over companies and make them better.  Lots of those investors treat their workers with respect.  Mr. Foley’s actions, and his admiration for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (the “Wisconsin moment” he yearns for), suggest that Mr. Foley’s personality point to an administration that will be ruthless toward state employees, will slash public education funding. 

We know that Governor Malloy’s personality has resulted in policies that help hard-pressed workers, respect the rights of union members, and support public education.  It is not Governor Malloy’s personality that is worrisome, but Mr. Foley’s.

posted by: bob8/57 | October 10, 2014  1:28pm


With an opponent like Foley who needs an election? The more people see and hear Mr. Foley the less they like him. The ambassador needs to go into hiding until after the election or he’ll be out polled by Joe ‘Don Quixote” Visconti.

posted by: Noteworthy | October 10, 2014  2:16pm

Great piece. Love the part about childhood difficulties and that’s why he’s prickly. Sounds like Malloy felt he was picked on; and now he’s king - so now he can bully. Does he FB all his childhood friends to gloat?

posted by: RogueReporterCT | October 10, 2014  5:21pm


No. The same job protections the rest of us have is not good enough. Not for us, and especially not for teachers. Two wrongs don’t make a right and jealousy does not make good policy.

posted by: SocialButterfly | October 10, 2014  7:33pm

@thomas hooker:  Malloy paid campaign ads that try to deceive voters by distorting Tom Foley’s former business background is only a cover-up for Malloy’s failure as the business leader of Connecticut. It’s Malloy’s role as a non-performing politician that has left this state in a $3 billion dollar deficit. His massive spending only projects into higher taxes.

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