Behind governor’s campaign, a Yale wife

Tom Foley’s latest campaign advertisement features his wife, a Yale alum.
Tom Foley’s latest campaign advertisement features his wife, a Yale alum. Photo by Esther Zuckerman.

In the most recent ad for Tom Foley’s gubernatorial campaign, Leslie Fahrenkopf Foley ’90 appears against an idyllic, backlit suburban background.

“As an attorney, I’ve worked with many impressive people, but no one more impressive than Tom Foley,” she says, pearl earrings glittering against her brown hair. “So I married him.”

Fahrenkopf Foley’s presence is vital to her husband’s campaign, said Scott McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University and a political analyst at the Quinnipiac Polling Institute. During the race for the Republican primary in August, Foley’s 1994 divorce from his ex-wife, Lisa Foley, became a hot news item and threatened to derail his image, McLean said.

Now Fahrenkopf Foley is out campaigning for her husband, trying to show Connecticut that he has a stable home life. But she is doing more on the campaign than just being a figurehead : She has also been leading her husband’s education policy team, applying the same work ethic that served her in the White House, at News Corporation and at Yale.

“She attends a lot of political gatherings with me, which I think is important,” Foley said. “People care about people’s families, who they pick as spouses and what kind of people they are.”

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Fahrenkopf Foley is no a stranger to politics — she grew up entrenched in the Republican Party.

When she was in her teens, her family picked up and moved from Reno, Nev., to Washington, D.C. Her father, Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. was summoned by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan to chair the Republican National Committee, which he did from 1983 to 1989.

“Politics sort of disrupted their lives in many ways,” said Fahrenkopf, who is currently the president and CEO of the casino lobby group American Gaming Association. “You couldn’t be in our household without being exposed to politics.”

Still, he said his three daughters are moderate Republicans: “They aren’t as conservative as their old man,” he said.

After Fahrenkopf Foley entered Yale in the mid 1980s, she joined the Yale Political Union’s Tory Party and the Yale College Republicans to spend time with fellow conservatives, who she said were “quieter” than her more progressive classmates. Politics were not her main activity on campus, though, she said. Being in a largely liberal atmosphere at both Yale and her high school — one that, to her sister Amy Fahrenkopf ’95 MED ’02, expected conservatives to be “irrational or emotional” — made both Amy Fahrenkopf and Fahrenkopf Foley develop intellectual arguments to defend their conservative beliefs, Fahrenkopf said.

Meanwhile, even though Fahrenkopf Foley helped to organize her father’s visits to the YPU, she kept his political celebrity status mum. Fahrenkopf Foley’s English professor Karla Taylor, who is now at the University of Michigan, wrote in an e-mail that her student wanted her successes to “be hers alone.”

A ‘POLITICAL ASSET’

Fahrenkopf Foley first met her future husband in 2004, when she was working as an associate counsel at the White House. They started dating in 2008 and eventually married in 2009, after she had left the White House for New York and began working as a lawyer for News Corp.

But as her husband started to campaign for governor of Connecticut, commuting to the Nutmeg State proved difficult. Fahrenkopf Foley found herself sprinting to Grand Central Station to make it to campaign events. So she made her decision to leave News Corp. to work for her husband’s campaign.

When Foley was picking teams to work on his various policies, he said, Fahrenkopf Foley expressed interest in working on education.

“This was an opportunity for me to really sink my teeth into something I’ve been interested in for a long time,” she said.

Taking cues from states, such as Massachusetts and Florida, whose school systems she deemed successful, Fahrenkopf Foley helped to construct her husband’s education policy. In an interview last week, she singled out the issue of “choice” — that a state should provide a number of public school options, such as magnet schools, for students. Regardless of the outcome of the November elections, she said she plans to continue her work in education.

“She really likes Connecticut,” her husband said. “She has a temperament and a value system that fit well here.”

McLean said it is important that Fahrenkopf Foley is a big part of the campaign. During the Republican primary race earlier this year, a report in the Hartford Courant came out that in 2006, 12 years after a bitter divorce and just before he would be approved as U.S. ambassador to Ireland, the White House asked Foley to have his ex-wife sign a statement that he never “physically abused” her. Foley, in response, told the Hartford Courant that his ex-wife was “very upset” that the marriage had ended and that he was insisting on joint-custody for their son, also named Tom.

“Our relationship has improved, but it is still not as good as I would like,” he said to the Courant.

McLean said that since Foley secured the Republican nomination, Fahrenkopf Foley, who now chairs political support group Women for Foley, is a “very important political asset.”

Otherwise, McLean added, he “would say that’s just sort of campaign fluff to have the wife involved.”

The election takes place on Nov. 2.

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