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In a room he rented at Spero’s Pub in Danvers on Feb. 8, Christy Mihos talked with people who came to support him or to learn about his planned run for governor.
In a room he rented at Spero’s Pub in Danvers on Feb. 8, Christy Mihos talked with people who came to support him or to learn about his planned run for governor. (Evan Richman/ Globe Staff)

The nonpolitician who would be governor

No party yet? No problem, says Mihos

Christy Mihos is not your typical candidate for governor. He's not sure whether he'll run as a Republican or an independent. His strategist quit two weeks ago, another adviser also counsels Democrats, and his campaign manager is new to this line of work.

Endorsements? He's not pursuing them now, he says.

A headquarters, fund-raising, and his stand on many key issues? All to come, Mihos calmly asserts.

But the presence of the unorthodox Mihos could well determine the outcome of this year's race for governor. If he runs as an independent, he becomes Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey's worst nightmare, inevitably draining GOP votes away from her in November.

And if he runs as a Republican, Mihos could be a force in the GOP primary if he uses his substantial fortune, amassed from a convenience store empire, to draw attention to his maverick candidacy and its populist, antiestablishment themes.

''I'm unbought and unbossed," Mihos told a group of about 60 Republican activists at a Danvers restaurant earlier this month. ''I'm not a politician. If you're looking for a politician, go to the other camp."

Mihos said he will announce on March 7, the deadline date, whether he will run against Healey in the Republican primary or as an independent. Either way, he said, he's a candidate.

''I'm in; I'm absolutely in," he declared.

'Vindication for Mihos'
The corporate offices of Christy's of Cape Cod LLC is a restored old house, with weathered-gray cedar shingles, about a block from Hyannis harbor. On the foyer walls, framed news clippings introduce guests to the businessman who would be governor.

''Vindication for Mihos" is the headline above a Cape Cod Times editorial after the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2002 that then-acting governor Jane M. Swift had acted illegally in ousting Mihos and Jordan Levy from the board of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. ''Political Payback . . . Fired by Swift, Mihos played key role in Romney election," reads another headline.

If there is an essential story thread that Mihos pitches in his self-styled ''insurgent campaign," it's something like this: Successful entrepreneur refused to be muzzled by powerful interests as he tried to flag waste and abuse on the $14.6-billion Big Dig.

Privately, past and present turnpike officials say Mihos was disruptive and accomplished little in terms of cost savings. But his unsuccessful effort to stop toll increases to help pay for the Big Dig won him praise from Boston commuters from the west who are paying for improvements that benefit toll-free commuters from the north and south.

''He asked tough questions and demanded answers and was pugnacious and determined," said Levy, a former Worcester mayor whose term on the board expires in July.

In searching for revenue, Mihos (pronounced MY-hos) proposed selling the service plazas on the Pike to pay off bonds and take down the tolls. He even suggested that the authority sell commercial naming rights to the new Interstate 93 bridge over the Charles River and claimed it could bring in $100 million from a bank or corporation eager to put its name on the span.

Recounting a conversation, Mihos said then-governor Paul Cellucci, who appointed him to the board, told him Cardinal Bernard Law and others were urging him to name the bridge for Leonard P. Zakim, who, after many years of working for religious, racial, and cultural harmony as director of the Anti-Defamation League of New England, had died of cancer at the age of 46.

''I said, 'Well, the Jewish community, if they want it for Lenny, let them bid too,' " Mihos recalled telling Cellucci. ''We need the money."

Cellucci, evidently ignoring the fund-raising scheme, in 2000 announced plans to include Zakim in the bridge name.

In Mihos's upstairs office, with its view of Hyannis harbor, half of the floor space and a sofa are filled with files, depositions, and news clippings about the Big Dig and his lawsuits against Swift -- the SJC reinstatement case and a federal civil rights suit that was settled out of court for $197,500 last year. Mihos said they were returned a few months ago by federal authorities who had requested them as part of an investigation of cost overruns and other irregularities on the gargantuan Central Artery/Tunnel project.

Nearby is a stack of blueprints and drawings for four more Christy's stores proposed for the Cape.

In 1998, Mihos and his brother, James, sold 132 of the 142 Christy's stores in New England to Southland Corp., owner of the 7-Eleven store chain. Christy Mihos retained 10 of the stores on Cape Cod under the deal, the cost of which was not disclosed.

Since the late 1970s, the brothers had roughly quadrupled the number of convenience stores in the chain, started as a single market in Brockton by their grandfather, a Greek immigrant who was the original Christy in their immediate family, and expanded by their father, Peter Mihos. Since the 1998 sale, Christy Mihos has added five more stores to his mini-chain, with plans to open more.

Earlier this month, Mihos and his wife, Andrea, sold their principal residence of 21 years in Cohasset for $2.25 million. Parents of a daughter and son in their early 20s, the couple now resides year-round at what had been their second home, an enormous expanded Cape-style house, on Great Island, a gated community of mostly conservation land in West Yarmouth. The property, with an adjacent three-bedroom guest house and boathouse, is worth at least six times the value of the Cohasset property.

''I'm the luckiest guy in the world," Mihos told a reporter as he played fetch with Reagan, the family's 11-year-old Yorkshire terrier, on the lawn, overlooking his private beach, a dock, and Nantucket Sound.

Fiscal conservative
On the stump, Mihos describes himself as ''a Brockton kid" or ''a grocer from Brockton," his home until he was 24. Notwithstanding his wealth and fabulous seaside house, there are no airs about him. He dresses casually, speaks unpretentiously in a variation of a Boston accent, and drops the ''g" in words like talking or running.

''I'm running because I love this state," he told a political science class at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell recently. ''I'd like to give something back. I don't like where we seem to be heading . . . The state is not being managed, jobs are being lost, and there's an exodus of people from the Commonwealth. I'd like to stem that tide."

The Brockton High School graduate tells the students he is ''the only candidate who graduated from a public high school in Massachusetts" (Healey graduated from a public high school in Florida; Thomas Reilly graduated from a Catholic high school in Springfield; and Deval Patrick, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, graduated from Milton Academy, a prestigious private school).

Mihos, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative and ''libertarian, sort of, on social issues -- I don't care what you do in your bedroom" -- supports abortion rights, gay marriage, the death penalty, and the rollback of the state income tax to 5 percent. Mihos is a leader of the group opposing Cape Wind, the offshore electric generation project proposed for Nantucket Sound.

He speaks only in general terms about the need for reform in healthcare and education, property tax relief, economic development, and incentives to business to create and keep jobs in the state. He promises more details in the next few weeks.

At 56, Mihos keeps his hair, now graying at the edges, a little on the long side, but not nearly as long as during his days at Stonehill College, where he earned a degree in management in the early 1970s and drove a 1969 yellow Chevrolet Corvette. ''I paid for it myself," he said, with $5,150 earned as a musician, playing clarinet, sax, and bouzouki in a Greek band at weddings, or bass in a rock band.

On his 21st birthday, at the wedding reception of a second cousin in Peabody, he met Andrea Argeros of Lynn, then a 19-year-old student at Simmons College.

''I was talking to someone and I saw her, and I said, 'Holy . . .' It was her eyes," Mihos recalled. ''I'll never forget it. It was like lights out, that's it . . . After, like, two or three hours of talking to her and dancing with her, I told her I was going to marry her . . . She said, 'You're crazy.' "

They were married three years later.

Uncertain ties to parties
He has had no such epiphany about his political future.

''There are some days I feel it could be much easier to go 'R[epublican]' and others where I think: 'Let's just fly here and go 'I[ndependent],' " he said.

In a meeting with Angus King, twice elected governor of Maine as an independent, King urged him to ''just do it," Mihos said, and run as an independent. ''He thinks people are fed up with the parties."

Mihos, whose only previous campaign was an unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat in 1990, has created his own Catch-22: Many delegates will not pledge to support him at the party's April 29 nominating convention until he commits to running as a Republican candidate. But he's uncertain he can capture the necessary delegates to get on the GOP ballot.

''I'd be happy to support him if he runs as a Republican," said Peter I. Blute, a former two-term Republican congressman from Shrewsbury and a prominent Mihos supporter. Blute thinks Mihos has little chance of winning if he runs as an independent.

''It's never happened before, and you won't get the type of recognition you need and would get by fighting in a Republican primary," Blute said.

To qualify for the September primary ballot, Mihos would need votes from 15 percent of the convention delegates, who have already been chosen at caucuses. Healey's campaign has said it will guarantee him enough delegates if he can't win them on his own.

Despite claims by some supporters that he would have enough support, Mihos said he has not yet seen a list of those delegates who would back him at the convention. Moreover, he remains wary of the Healey pledge because of her influence over the party apparatus. Virtually all of the party's elected officials are supporting her, and the party chairman, Darrell W. Crate, works for her husband, Sean M. Healey, at a Beverly asset management company.

Mihos's indecisiveness was a contributing factor in the abrupt resignation two weeks ago of Holly Robichaud, who started working for him last fall as general consultant and strategist.

''I just didn't think he was running a serious campaign," said Robichaud in telephone interview from Florida, where she is on vacation. ''A candidate shouldn't be devising strategy on his own. He seems to be a one-man shop . . . You can't go out there like you're running for state rep."

Mihos said Robichaud never directly informed him she was quitting or why. He said they disagreed on the campaign's timing and tone. ''I just wanted to do it my own way, out of the box and not be traditional," Mihos said.

Key advisers, Mihos said, include Lawrence Overlan, a college instructor, and Louis DiNatale, pollster-commentator, director of the Center for Economic and Civic Opinion at University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and a Democrat.

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