Our big fat Greek wild card

Will Mihos matter?
By ADAM REILLY  |  September 21, 2006

GIVE ME CONVENIENCE: Christy Mihos could be a factor.
If Christy Mihos convinces Massachusetts to take him seriously, he’ll make this fall’s race for governor a lot more interesting. Absent Mihos — or absent a credible Mihos — the contest between Democrat Deval Patrick and Republican Kerry Healey could become a monotonous clash of incompatible world views. (Patrick: build community! Spend the surplus! Fix those bridges! Healey: cut taxes! Lock up the pervs! Screw the illegals!) But if Mihos runs well, things will get complicated. For example, how much support does he get from conservative Democrats? What about disaffected Republicans? More important: if things get nasty between Patrick and Healey, how many of the state’s 1.9 million independent voters might vote for Mihos to protest partisan politics as usual? (By way of context, the total number of registered voters in Massachusetts is just over 3.9 million.)

For these questions to matter, though, Mihos has to prove he’s more than a vanity candidate — and so far, that hasn’t happened. Mihos’s core issues have serious emotional resonance: Big Dig mismanagement, property-tax relief, eliminating the Mass Pike tolls, abolishing the MCAS. But in hypothetical general-election match-ups, his poll numbers have hovered around the low-to-mid teens — maybe because these various positions still haven’t been cobbled together into one cohesive vision. Furthermore, while much has been made of failed Democratic candidate Tom Reilly’s campaign missteps, Mihos has had plenty of stumbles himself: there was the yacht registered in Rhode Island to avoid paying Massachusetts taxes; the public quip interpreted (wrongly, Mihos insists) as a self-deprecating reference to his lovemaking skills; Mihos’s praise, during an interview with NECN’s Jim Braude, of Patrick, his soon-to-be rival.

Even worse, Mihos’s very approach to retail politicking limits his credibility. Last week, I spent an hour following Mihos as he toured the Polar Beverages headquarters in Worcester. As usual, he came across as a genuinely likable guy — bounding eagerly up the stairs, introducing himself by his first name, smiling broadly at everyone he met. Unfortunately, when one worker asked Mihos about the state of his campaign, his reply — “I highly recommend running for governor!” — made his candidacy sound experiential, like bungee jumping or taking mushrooms.

What’s more, Mihos seems to have an unhealthy obsession with Healey, whom he’d considered challenging in the Republican gubernatorial primary. At one point, after offering an upbeat take on his prospects in the general election, Mihos added this dig: “I know Kerry Healey’s coming in third.” And when he took off the hairnet he’d worn inside Polar Beverages, Mihos couldn’t resist another Healey dig. “See, I comply with the laws,” he grumbled. “As opposed to Kerry Healey, when she was down in New Bedford. The ceremonial hairnet.” (In fact, Healey wore a hairnet while visiting a fish-processing plant in New Bedford, but refused to be photographed.)

Put it all together, and it’s no wonder Massachusetts political wise guys see Mihos teetering on the edge of irrelevancy. “If you’re asking, ‘Does he have any chance of winning the race?’ the answer is no,” says Paul Watanabe, a professor of political science at UMass Boston. “If you’re asking, ‘Does he have a chance of having an impact by securing a large number of votes?’ the answer is maybe. . . . He can become an irritant, but I don’t suspect that he’ll garner many votes. I doubt he’ll be anywhere in the double digits.”

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Big trouble?
If Mihos becomes a factor in the governor’s race, expect his opponents — especially Kerry Healey — to argue that he became a vocal Big Dig critic fairly late into his term on the Mass Turnpike board. Prior to that, one Republican operative charges, he was a “yes man” for the project. A particular sore spot could be Mihos’s relationship with ex–Big Dig chief Jim Kerasiotes, whose cover-up of cost overruns led to his ouster by then-governor Paul Cellucci. A 1995 Globe story titled “In the Kitchen with James Kerasiotes” featured Mihos’s mother’s olive recipe; Mihos says the two men were never close, but their connection could complicate his Big Dig–whistleblower credentials.
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