As deal to lure Bridgewater from Westport falls flat, pols play the blame game
Updated 11:57 am, Tuesday, July 1, 2014
A billionaire is without a helipad in Stamford's South End. There will be no traffic jam of Teslas on Washington Boulevard in that city.
And for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who previously presided as mayor over Stamford's renaissance as a wealth center, the home to banking giants UBS and RBS, there will be no ribbon cutting.
What was supposed to be a legacy-building achievement for Malloy, who is up for re-election this November, devolved into finger-pointing and dueling feelings of regret and good riddance when the world's largest hedge fund pulled the plug Friday on a controversial and incentive-laden plan to relocate from Westport to Stamford.
Bridgewater Associates -- Westport's largest single employer and third-largest taxpayer -- met with opposition over the displacement of a boatyard and what many Republicans decried as corporate welfare, walked away from $115 million in incentives offered by the state to move its headquarters and workforce of 1,200 people from town to Stamford's Harbor Point development.
A condition of the deal, which was announced by the Malloy administration with fanfare two years ago, was that the hedge fund create an additional 1,000 jobs.
But Ray Dalio, the richest person in Connecticut and pioneer of the hedge fund, did not want to be seen as playing the blame game when reached Monday by Hearst Connecticut Media.
"I'm not going to comment," Dalio said. "It just feeds the whole thing. It just leads to gossip."
Out of the `First Five' lineup
Bridgewater, with headquarters at 1 Glendinning Place in the northern section of town, manages more than $150 billion in global investments and generates by many accounts hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenues for the state. The hedge fund had been a major cog in Malloy's "First Five" job-creation initiative.
The logo of Bridgewater was still on the program's website Monday, with those of other tax-incentive and forgivable-loan recipients such as ESPN, NBC Sports and Cigna.
"I think it's pretty extraordinary that Governor Malloy chooses an extraordinarily bad policy initiative and then he can't even get it done," said Republican Tom Foley, who is seeking a rematch with Malloy in November. "Moving jobs from one community in Connecticut, I don't think, is a good thing for a governor to be doing -- and particularly using taxpayer money to pay for it. It can't leave people with much sense of confidence for his leadership."
"Tom Foley has zero credibility on jobs," Puglia said. "He showed us his leadership skills when he drove Bibb Co. into the ground, laying off hundreds of workers while collecting millions of dollars. This governor is leading by creating 55,000 private-sector jobs and continuing to work to build up companies in Connecticut, not destroy them, like Mr. Foley."
Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the governor, also defended Malloy's economic development vision for Connecticut.
"For a long time, our state failed to compete for the kinds of good-paying jobs with good benefits that will grow and sustain our economy," Doba said Monday. "Working as a partner with our business community, we can make sure that Connecticut businesses can do what we need them to do: grow good paying jobs here in Connecticut. We will continue working with employers -- both large and small -- in our efforts to regain Connecticut's economic competitiveness."
State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who will face Foley in the GOP's Aug. 12 primary for governor, similarly panned the scuttled deal.
"I'm glad it's not going forward," McKinney said Monday, calling for an accounting of how much money has already been spent on the project. "I think it highlights a failed policy. It's a bad policy and ought to stop. The fallout has already started."
Finger-pointing in Stamford
In Stamford, the collapse of the deal, which had called for Bridgewater to spend $750 million on its new headquarters, sparked infighting.
Foes of the city's current mayor, Democrat David Martin, publicly questioned his commitment to the project.
"To give up at least 1,000 jobs, I think, it's a reflection and failure on the leadership of the city not to get their arms around this," said former Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, a Republican who lost to Martin in the November election. "I think they've made it a political football between jobs and the boatyard."
Martin was not available for direct comment Monday, but his chief of staff, Michael Pollard, said the first-term mayor consistently voiced his support for the Bridgewater move.
"It was question of location," Pollard said. "It was never a question of Bridgewater. His concern was location."
Until Bridgewater scuttled the project Friday, Pollard said, the city had no indication the deal was off and had been communicating with the major players every six to eight weeks.
"We all are disappointed," Pollard said. "It was a grand opportunity."
But for Fedele to blame the deal's collapse on Martin, who has only been in office for seven months, is off base, said Pollard, who noted that the plan was conceived when Republican Michael Pavia was mayor.
"Mr. Pavia owned this for 14 months," Pollard said. "So if it was that easy, according to Mr. Fedele, why hadn't Mr. Pavia done it?"
Pavia responded that the vetting of the project became highly politicized during last year's election, when Malloy backed state Rep. William Tong over Martin in the Democratic mayoral primary that was won by Martin.
"Bridgewater got caught up in the political process called a mayoral election," Pavia said. "There was a lot of lobbying going on. It's unfortunate that the process was not allowed to do what it was intended to do. The whole thing was short-stopped."
Tong said Stamford as a whole needs to do some soul searching, and he credited Malloy with bringing the opportunity forward.
"He's trying. He's really pushing hard," Tong said. "I think there's a general sense in all quarters that we missed a tremendous opportunity here and that ought to be a wake-up call for all of us about economic development."
State Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, a venture capitalist who is friendly with Dalio and represents Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan, said Malloy's administration was so fixated on the deal it overlooked issues related to waterfront access.
"I think if there were any political ramifications, I think it's one that doesn't look very good for the current Malloy administration," Frantz said. "I think the moral of the story in this case is, if you push for something too hard and too quickly, mistakes will be made and the administration will not get what it wants. In the beginning, this project was (so) fast-tracked that it got into dangerous territory."
Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy and programs for the Business Council of Fairfield County, said Malloy isn't to blame.
After the "whole episode, as painful as it was, the lesson here is, developers in the city need to know the rules of the road," McGee said.
The wooing of Bridgewater Associates followed the defection of ESL Investments, a $9 billion Greenwich hedge fund run by Edward Lampert, to Miami in 2012.
Dalio declined to say whether his firm will remain in Connecticut for the long term.
"I can really only express my hope that they are staying in Connecticut," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. "But I have no reason to believe they will leave."