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    Monday, September 25, 2023

    Bibb fatigue would suit Foley just fine

    Focus groups and or internal polling must have convinced the Malloy campaign that continuing to dredge up the demise of the Bibb Co. in Georgia in the 1990s is an effective way to drive down Republican Tom Foley's approval numbers.

    Bibb has now been the subject of two advertisements attacking Foley, and Gov. Malloy did all he could to harp on the subject during their first debate in Norwich, Aug. 27.

    In 1985, Foley was 33 years old and directing an investment firm, when he got the not-so-bright idea to borrow heavily to buy the Bibb Co. Things went well for a time, but with the arrival of the 1990s, textile manufacturing was shifting overseas, where cheap labor made it difficult for American companies to compete.

    Eventually, Foley could not meet his debt obligations, and according to various reports, struck a deal in 1996 to step down as CEO, surrender most of his equity in the company and place Bibb in a prepackaged bankruptcy. The new owners closed the Bibb factory down within two years. It was a tough decline, and certainly hurt many people, some now appearing in a Malloy ad to voice the anger they still have with Foley, who they associate with the collapse.

    But what, if anything, does it have to do with the Connecticut campaign for governor in 2014? The most recent ad begins with the statement that Foley may be talking about job creation now, "but when buying the Bibb Co. … creating jobs wasn't his (Foley's) priority."

    So was his priority destroying jobs? There is no evidence of that. His priority, I suspect, was making money. If successful, Foley would have created more jobs to make more money. However, it didn't work out that way, and Foley was forced to cut costs, and jobs, to try to keep Bibb afloat. That happens in business.

    Is the suggestion that because Foley failed with Bibb he will fail as governor? The ads don't try to make that connection. The fact is, Foley went on to become a successful businessman.

    These ads are intended to work at a gut level, to reduce Foley to a Charles Montgomery Burns caricature, the charcter on "The Simpsons" with the greedy desire to increase his own wealth, heedless of who gets hurt.

    Unfortunately for Foley, his appearance at the Fusion paperboard factory in Sprague early in the campaign played right into that strategy. Intent on using the announcement of the closing of the plant to attack Malloy's economic policies, Foley came across as unconcerned about the plight of the workers and indifferent to the details of what happened at the plant. One could picture Mr. Burns, whose character never seems to know anyone's name, giving the same press conference. Foley did not know who Cathy Osten was. She happens to be the first selectwoman and a state senator.

    The Bibb attack ads could also motivate government employees at the state and municipal level, many who fear government spending cuts pushed by a Foley administration could lead them to the same fate as the Bibb workers, despite the Republican candidate's insistence that is not his plan.

    In the Norwich debate, Foley depicted Malloy's Bibb attacks as irrelevant and a transparent attempt to divert attention from Connecticut's meager economic recovery under the incumbent's leadership, which is pretty much on target. Foley's campaign is also running an ad that describes his leadership of Bibb as somehow a success story, which comes across as ridiculous.

    His better option is to ignore the Malloy attacks and focus on the economy and jobs in Connecticut in 2014, betting that voters will soon get sick of hearing about Bibb and Georgia in the 1990s.

    Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.

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