Republican Gov. John N. Dalton was in New York today to tell America's business elite what he had denied throughout the bitter Virginia gubernatorial race -- that "our friend" Democratic Gov.-elect Charles S. Robb would be good for business profits and tough on organized labor.
The industry executives attending the 30th annual Virginia Report to Top Management apparently agreed: Robb received a standing ovation at a luncheon at the Starlight Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
"I want to reassure you that Virginia, indeed, means business," said Robb, the first Democratic governor elected in Virginia in 16 years. "It will continue to be a good place to live, work and do business."
The meeting symbolized the closing of the ranks of the business establishment behind Robb, who had courted business backing but won election with some labor and almost complete black support at the polls.
Dalton had issued a series of campaign "election alerts" that supported Republican J. Marshall Coleman and warned of the dire consequences of a Robb victory. Today Dalton played down differences between Coleman and Robb when it came to business: "You can expect increased profits and decreased taxes," the governor told the gathering.
Dalton said Robb, who will succeed him on Jan. 16, is "committed to the same approach" as his administration in slowing the growth of state government and the number of state employes. Dalton and his defeated protege, Coleman, had portrayed Robb as soft on the state's right to work law -- suggesting that Robb would not, as Dalton did, dispatch state police to the coal fields to keep nonunion mines open during strikes by the United Mine Workers of America.
Today Dalton changed his tone. "Both of our recent candidates for governor, who read the political tea leaves very carefully, went on record as opposing any attempt to change the right-to-work law or enforcement policies." Robb's support of the right-to-work law was partly responsible for his failure to win the endorsement of the AFL-CIO.
"The percentage of our working people who belong to unions is only a little over half the national average and has been declining," Dalton boasted today. "You don't have to take my word for it that Virginia's business climate is still among the best in the nation, the next governor is here to speak for himself."
At that, Robb got his standing ovation. He was mobbed by many of the Fortune 500 officers at a cocktail party before the luncheon. In fact, so many of them requested private conferences during Robb's stay here today and tomorrow that he had to turn some of them down. Several of the chief executive officers stood in line after the luncheon to get Robb's autograph on the program.
Harold Poffrath, director of the Long Island-based Hazeltine Corp., told Robb that his company is looking for a place to build a new plant to supply material to the federal government. "The western part of your state around Winchester sounds attractive to us," he said, adding that he liked the area because it is near Dulles International Airport, within a five-hour drive of New York and in a state with reasonable energy rates and an available labor force.
"If there's anything we can do to help, give me a call," Robb said.
Bernard Lane, president of the Lane Co., which makes cedar chests at a plant in Alta Vista, sheepishly told Robb he "may have seen my name on Marshall's list" of financial contributors, but added that he had given to the GOP candidate "out of loyalty" to Dalton.
"You ran a first-class campaign," Lane told Robb. "Virginia was in a no-lose situation, which is something I could not have said four years ago," when the Democratic nominee was populist Henry E. Howell.
Robb was ecstatic when he found one corporation executive who "actually read" Robb's rather dry 50-page position paper on economic development, a subject of many jokes during the campaign.
As Robb accepted congratulations and business cards from officials of General Electric, Westinghouse, Philip Morris, Mobil Oil, New York Life Insurance, Westvaco and the Ethyl Corp., he joked: "Now I've got to do all those things I talked about."