By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ In his rematch with Republican Tom Foley, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has frequently made references to his opponent’s personal wealth, painting the Greenwich businessman as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary taxpayers.
At a recent transportation forum, the first-term Democrat questioned whether Foley ever rode a bus, and he repeatedly mentions that Foley owns a $5 million yacht and $10 million mansion. In a televised debate last week, Malloy described his own upbringing in a working-class family of nine children in an attempt to draw a contrast with Foley.
“We’re different people than some folks that otherwise seek this office,” Malloy said.
Malloy, who took only occasional jabs at Foley’s wealth during their 2010 race, has stepped them up as polls show the incumbent trailing the challenger, with voters giving Foley the edge when it comes to handling pocketbook issues. With jobs and the economy rating high among issues worrying voters, Malloy has hammered at Foley’s wealth and his tax returns that show he did not pay any tax in two recent years.
The populist attacks can cut both ways in an affluent state like Connecticut. They resonate with Malloy’s base, especially labor unions, but the wealth-bashing could turn off some well-heeled voters.
“I actually don’t think it will work that well. It’s essentially the politics of resentment, which is what he’s attempting to cultivate here,” said Gary Rose, chairman of government and politics at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, adding how Malloy appears “petty.”
Rose said the message is better tailored for a presidential year, when there is a more significant urban vote. He said wealthy people, including small business owners, are likely to go the polls this year and he doubts many will resent Foley’s success.
Ronald Shurin, an associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, said Malloy needs to link his criticism of Foley’s wealth to an issue, such as Foley’s record as a businessman.
“It works if it’s in context,” Shurin said. “It works if you can demonstrate a candidate is out of touch.”
Jabs about Foley’s wealth have become more acute since he released tax return summaries from 2010-2012. He reported slightly more than $1 million in adjusted income for 2010, paying $287,981 in taxes. But the income he claimed dropped to negative $65,705 in 2011 and rose to $20,462 in 2012. He ultimately paid no taxes both years after writing off investment losses and other deductions, including alimony payments.
“There is something wrong with America when someone who is worth tens of millions of dollars, who has had reported income that we can count of $60 million, pays no federal income tax or tax to the state,” Malloy said in a debate. “It only makes sense perhaps in the clubs and organizations where Tom talks to other people like himself, but it doesn’t make sense to the state of Connecticut.”
Foley has dismissed the criticism from Malloy _ who with his wife clamed $305,534 in adjusted growth income in 2013, about half from his $150,000 annual salary _ and the state’s Democrats as “class warfare,” adding, “I don’t think people buy it.”
Foley, 62, graduated from Harvard Business School and worked at a management consulting firm an a private equity firm before founding the NTC Group, a private investment company which purchased several manufacturing companies in the 1980s, including the now-defunct Bibb Co. in Georgia. The textile company closed after Foley sold it but Malloy has accused him of bankrupting it and Democrats who say it shows he put profits ahead of people.
Ed Marcus, a former chairman of the Connecticut Democratic Party, said he believes the focus on Foley’s wealth and his taxes is a winner with most voters.
“I don’t think the governor has gone overboard on trying to appeal to just average, ordinary people because I think just average, ordinary people includes 99 percent of the state,” he said. “If somebody earns $250,000 or $300,000, they’re still struggling to pay their bills if they have a kid in college, and so on. I think they get it, that here’s a guy in a different league.”
Foley, who noted in the debate that you don’t owe taxes if you don’t have income, said later that he noticed the ramped-up criticism from Malloy about his wealth.
“He almost seems angry about it, doesn’t he?” Foley asked.