NEW BRITAIN, Connecticut — Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley said Monday he's still crafting his urban agenda for Connecticut's cities, focusing on issues such as high unemployment, a large educational achievement gap and affordable housing needs.
In March, Foley said his campaign was developing a plan, acknowledging that he didn't spend enough time campaigning in urban areas during the 2010 gubernatorial election, when he narrowly lost to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Since then, Foley has been meeting with city residents to get input. He continued that mission on Monday, visiting local officials and shop owners in the "Little Poland" section of New Britain.
"I want to spend more time in the cities because I think Connecticut's future is no better than the future of our cities, and we have a lot of cities in Connecticut that have serious challenges," said Foley, who still faces an Aug. 12 Republican primary challenge against Senate Minority Leader John McKinney before he can wage a rematch against Malloy in November.
Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democrats, contends that Malloy, a former mayor, has been a "steady leader" for cities and towns and "Foley would take us backward."
"Crime is down, education funding is up by hundreds of millions of dollars, and tens of thousands of jobs in our cities have been created or saved," Puglia said. "During the last three-and-half years, Governor Malloy has built steady progress for our states, and he knows there is more work to be done."
While Puglia claimed Foley has "refused to provide anything except empty rhetoric and reckless promises," Foley described the "backbone" of his urban plan.
The plan focuses heavily on education reform, including intra-district school choice, allowing school funding to "follow" a child, a required third-grade reading exam before a student graduates to fourth grade and a high school regents-style exam.
He also proposes special enterprise zones for economic development, where a statewide municipal code would be applied in a section of a city, enforced by the state. Foley said such zones would "protect employers from getting shaken down" by corrupt local officials.
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, a Republican, said she believes the GOP can make political in-roads in cities if a grassroots effort is made.
"It almost seems like they're always afraid of the cities," she said. "They're always afraid because they write them off as a place that they're not going to be successful and they figure 'Oh everyone is registered Democrat in urban areas so why even give that a shot.'
"I hope I am a living example that a Republican can be successful if you put the energy, the time in, if you talk to people. The people of New Britain really vote for the person that they feel who they have a better connection with, not necessarily what their party is," Stewart said.
Several people dining at a restaurant in "Little Poland" said they were impressed Foley had made the effort to visit the city.
"We would like to have more attention because we have a lot of good people in New Britain," said Andrew Kowalkski, a Polish immigrant, adding how he would like to see local businesses in New Britain thrive.
Foley has been making both public and private visits to cities in recent months, including Danbury and Bridgeport. Some of those meetings have been set up by Regina Roundtree, founder of the Connecticut Black Republicans and Conservatives.
Foley said Roundtree will remain a paid consultant, despite recent comments she posted on social media criticizing a Republican lieutenant governor candidate for having a sense of "white privilege."
"It was unfortunate, but is unrelated to the work that she does for us," Foley said.