Bridgewater deal that didn't happen plays a role in the Conn. race for governor

Sep 15, 2014

Bridgewater's corporate headquarters in Westport, Conn.
Credit WSHU File Photo

The latest Quinnipiac University poll on the Connecticut Governor’s race finds more voters say Republican challenger Tom Foley would do a better job on the economy than Democratic incumbent Dannel Malloy.  

Foley has been attacking Malloy’s economic development policies. One attack focuses on the approval of state subsidies for Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. The subsidies would have helped Bridgewater move its headquarters from Westport to Stamford.

A recent Foley web ad criticized Malloy for the move that eventually did not happen.

“He says he hasn’t moved companies from one town to another, but what about Bridgewater? I know it didn’t work out and he got stuck with a $16 million remediation bill.  But you can’t say he didn’t try,” said Foley in the spot.

The deal was announced in mid-August of 2012, and Malloy was in Stamford to announce it.

“The reason we’re here today, is a major announcement, I’d like to note...I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, in Davos last January...when, for the first time, on a face-to-face basis, we conversed about his vision of going out into the future,” said Malloy.

That vision was a new $750 million corporate headquarters for Bridgewater, overlooking the Stamford harbor. The state offered up to $115 million in incentives under the Next Five economic development program. In exchange,  Bridgewater pledged to stay in Connecticut and add 1,000 new jobs. But the deal was complicated, which Malloy acknowledged. 

“There will be some controversy about this project. There always is. This is subject to local approval. The state is not telling Stamford what to do. This is a decision Stamford has to make for itself,” Malloy said.

The news surprised the city’s land use officials. The governor said the deal had to be a secret to compete against other states. Still, there were hurdles. The property had been the city’s only working boatyard for more than 100 years. The property owner, developer Building and Land Technology, tore it down less than a year before Malloy’s announcement. That sparked an all-out campaign by activists who wanted to see the boatyard restored. They said the Bridgewater deal violated state environmental laws and the city’s own Master Plan. The boatyard would also have to be relocated. Maureen Boylan of the local boater’s group, Save Our Boatyard, was an early and vocal critic. She said the deal didn’t make sense.

"The question that everyone is asking themselves is, why would Gov. Malloy give $115 million in state grants to a billionaire who was never leaving the state to begin with?" Boylan said.

Ultimately, Building and Land Technology withdrew the plans. In June, Bridgewater announced it was calling off the plan entirely.

The Stamford Boatyard where Bridgewater wanted to construct its new corporate headquarters.
Credit Kaomi Goetz

Foley is using the Bridgewater episode as an example of what he says is Malloy’s effort to bribe companies to stay in Connecticut.

“He’s taking taxpayer money, billions, multiple billions of dollars at this point, to bribe people to stay here to help him get re-elected,” Foley said.

Scott McLean, a political scientist at Quinnipiac University, says Foley has a powerful message.

“It’s part of a broader, important, policy discussion, and I think Foley is making the point that our economic policy in Connecticut would be smarter to lower taxes generally and create a good business climate generally rather than focusing on paying companies to stay in the state. Framed in that way I think it really has some power,” McLean said.

“About 40 percent of voters say their top issue is the economy and jobs. And then when we ask a series of questions about issues and who would do a better job handling them, voters preferred Foley by a large margin on the economy and jobs,” said Quinnipiac University Poll director Doug Schwartz,  about their latest survey on the gubernatorial race.

Malloy has defended his economic policies. In a debate with Foley in Norwich, Malloy cited some of his successes. “NBC Sports moved from New York City and moved from Philadelphia in the Comcast combination and came to Connecticut. Starting with discussions of just a few jobs, it grew to hundreds and hundreds of high paying jobs. Cigna moved its headquarters out of Philadelphia and into Connecticut as a result of what we are doing,” said Malloy. He’s not doing anything different from what other governors are doing to entice businesses, Malloy added.

It’s still possible for Malloy to make up the ground he’s lost to Foley in their rematch for governor, according to pollster Schwartz. Malloy narrowly defeated Foley four years ago.

“When we polled this time four years ago, Malloy had a nine point lead and in the end Foley was able to make up a lot of ground and only lost by about half a point. So things can certainly change over these two months. That’s what campaigns are for. We’ll have debates; we’ll have ads. So there’s certainly room for movement in this race,” Schwartz said.

And that movement may come if Malloy can convince voters he’s done a good job on the economy.