SPRAGUE, Connecticut — Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley was upstaged at his own news conference Tuesday as a first selectwoman and union leaders decried his attempts to link the planned closure of a paperboard factory to what he called Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's failed economic policies.
Much of Foley's news conference, held near the entrance to Fusion Paperboard in Sprague, was dominated by a sometimes-heated exchange with Sprague First Selectman Cathy Osten and several workers from the plant, including two leaders of the union. Osten and the workers contend Fusion, owned by a private equity firm, has been making money and the decision to close in 60 days had nothing to do with Connecticut's economic policies.
But Foley, a former businessman from Greenwich who once owned a textile company in Georgia, insisted that anti-business state policies and high energy costs were the reason the company is closing, and he blamed Malloy and Osten for not doing more to save the plant's 145 jobs. He said the plant would have stayed open if it had been making money for its owners.
"You just apparently don't have business experience to understand people don't close perfectly good plants," said Foley, adding, "You've failed, ma'am. You've failed. And the governor failed to keep these jobs here."
The union leaders argued that neither Osten nor the workers had failed.
"When you come, please make sure that your facts are straight and that you're not blaming the wrong entity because we didn't do it," said Rich Harrele, president of Local 1840. "We are the guys, 60 days from now, who will have no job."
Osten and the union contend the Malloy administration has been helping to try to keep Fusion in Connecticut. The Department of Economic and Community Development last year provided the company with a $3 million, 10-year state loan. Part of that money was to be used to upgrade a paper-making machine, one of only two in the world. That machine, however, is now being sold to another company, and the state loan, along with a penalty, are being repaid, Osten said. The future of the 600-acre parcel, which sits in Sprague and Lisbon, is uncertain.
Fusion is one of the largest employers in Sprague, a mostly rural eastern Connecticut community with nearly 3,000 residents.
Shortly before Foley's arrival, Osten told reporters it was "disgusting" he was holding a news conference there. She said, "I don't like this being part of a political game."
The news conference was videotaped by Malloy's campaign. Also, a representative of Foley's primary challenger, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, was observing the event, which resurrected accusations from the 2010 governor's race about Foley's tenure at the Bibb Company, which his company, the NTC Group, owned for 11 years.
Osten had said Foley closed the mill, but Foley said Bibb was closed by a subsequent owner.