FOLEY, MALLOY AGREE ON NOTHING; BUT MALLOY WINS DEBATE

Coming to you from the studios of NBC-Connecticut:

Rare is the occasion when two candidates for office can’t agree on anything. But last night’s gubernatorial debate between Republican Tom Foley and Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy was just such an occasion as the two differed on everything with the possible exception of Jodi Rell being a nice person.

But as far as debates go, Malloy won hands-down with more specifics, a proven track record, feistiness when it was needed and a refusal to let Foley get away with half-truths. If Malloy can be faulted for anything, it was concentrating too much on Foley’s shortcomings.

The tone was set for the night just by taking a look at the area outside the Bushnell Theatre in Hartford where the event was held. Campaigns pride themselves on “visibility”—those crowds of supporters outside the debate venues who hold signs for their candidates, wave to passing cars and chant slogans for their man or woman. Malloy supporters were out in full force while hardly a single Foley supporter could be seen. But the big Foley-Boughton tour bus went by as sort of a microcosm of the night. Foley’s campaign seemed devoid of rank and file volunteers but boasted an expensive, brightly colored tour bus—the best money can buy (with apologies to Linda McMahon who showed up to her Senate debate in a huge, black, stretch limo with no names on the sides).

Foley and Malloy disagreed on issues early and often: On whether Foley saved or destroyed the Bibb company in Georgia, the town it was in and the people that worked there; on whether Malloy created jobs in Stamford; on whether Malloy supported the federal “Race to the Top” competition for federal education funds (which Connecticut lost); on whether Foley was a job-creator or a destructive corporate-raider; on whether current death row inmates and presumably the pair from the Cheshire home invasion case would be put to death even if Malloy signed into law a death penalty prohibition—Foley claimed they would be spared, Malloy said any prohibition would apply only going forward.

Things got testy at times with moderator FOX News Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron losing control of things as the two candidates talked over each other. Both started with accusations of half-truths and culminated with Foley, in a Bob Dole-like moment, said, “Stop lying about Bibb!” Bibb is the defunct Georgia textile mill that Malloy claims Foley bought and ran into the ground.

The state budget deficit was also a major point of contention between Foley and Malloy. Foley claims he can eliminate the budget deficit—which stands at about $3.3 billion—with spending cuts and no tax increases. Malloy said he would squeeze as much savings as possible by shrinking staffs, consolidating agencies and applying Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

If state employees came away thinking they have a target on their backs, it’s because they do. Twice during the debate, Foley extolled the virtues of privatization of services currently provided by state employees to save money. Meanwhile, Malloy tried hard to convince viewers he has made no promises to the unions that support him. (That, by the way, was the source of Malloy’s only obvious mistake—he attacked the questioner, the Hartford Courant’s Daniela Altimari, by finishing his answer about his union support with, “…and you know that!” to Altimari who is among the fairest and best Capitol reporters.)

Also troubling was Foley’s comments after the debate when he said of the contentious forum, “I served in Iraq so I know what this is like.” Foley was not in the military (he was in Iraq in a civil role) and it’s irresponsible to compare what went on in Iraq to a feisty political debate.

On balance, voters are left with a simple question: Who is best suited to take the reins of a state drowning in budget deficits? The answer is Dan Malloy. In the debate, as he has done as mayor of Stamford, he showed leadership qualities, experience, passion and vision superior to Foley.