Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley wants the Malloy administration to answer questions about the loans it gives out to businesses across the state. His attempt to raise the issue Tuesday left Foley himself in the hot seat.
Foley hoped a doomed paper mill in Sprague would provide a telling backdrop for his message about the failed economic policies of the Malloy administration as he staged a press conference on its front lawn. Fusion Paperboard is closing in September with the loss of 145 jobs. Last year, the state gave the company a $2 million loan, on the understanding that it would increase employment.
"We need to stop corporate welfare," Foley said. "Handing out billions of taxpayer dollars to bribe businesses to stay here when you're implementing anti-business policies that are driving them out is like stepping on the accelerator and the brake at the same time."
Foley soon lost control of the optics, as Cathy Osten, who is both First Selectwoman and State Senator for this town, turned up, essentially, to accuse him of taking advantage of the issue for his own gain. "You have not come here," she said, "and ever reached out to any of the leaders here -- either the union leaders, the business leaders, or the town leaders -- to ask us what was going on here. We have a story to tell."
Union leaders at the plant and workers joined in.
Mike D’Auria, one of those losing his job here, said the closure is due to global forces on the paper industry, and not local conditions. "If you understood the paper industry, plastic is overtaking cardboard, day by day by day," he said.
Foley responded by telling D'Auria he seemed not to care about the 145 job losses in the town, an accusation that brought an angry response. "Anyone who's been affected by this worked our asses off to get this right. We did not cause this!" he shouted at Foley.
Eventually, the whole event was moved along, as the company lost patience with the sideshow on its property. The Fusion paper mill, which makes food packaging, was bought in 2011 by investment firm OpenGate Capital. The owners have not commented on their reasons for closing the mill.