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Christy’s choice

Mihos could be a contender — but only if he loses his Republican baggage
By ADAM REILLY  |  February 22, 2006

AN INDEPENDENT MIHOS Candidacy could be just as dangerous to the Democrats as Healey.The conventional wisdom is already fixed: if Christy Mihos — the convenience-store magnate and Big-Dig whistle blower who has pledged to run for governor — campaigns as an independent, he’ll be doing the Massachusetts Democratic Party a huge favor. Mihos would pull voters from Republican lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, or so the thinking goes. And this, in turn, would give the Democratic nominee — Tom Reilly? Deval Patrick? Chris Gabrieli? — a cakewalk into the corner office.

You’ll hear this argument both from liberals, who make it with a kind of nervous glee, and from the smattering of Massachusetts conservatives not linked to the Healey campaign. If Mihos challenges Healey in the GOP primary, says Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation, “We’ll wish them both well, and be supportive of whichever one of them wins.” And if he makes an independent bid? “Then I think I’m going to simply have to slice my wrists,” she answers. “You’d be splitting the vote just to elect the Democrat. And that’s something I don’t even want to think about.”

Relax, Barbara. An independent Mihos candidacy could be just as dangerous to the Democrats as to Healey. For that to happen, though, Mihos has to break with his Republican past and embrace a new political identity — and right now, it’s uncertain whether he’s prepared to take that step.

Straight talk
Mihos’s regular-guy persona is a big source of his appeal. Most candidates protect themselves with smooth-talking press flacks; when they do speak, it’s in cautious, carefully crafted sound bites. Mihos takes a different tack — which is how, late last week, this reporter found himself in Mihos’s palatial West Yarmouth home, ogling the Kennedy compound across Lewis Bay and parsing the upcoming campaign with Mihos and his comely wife, Andrea. (There is, of course, an obvious tension between being an Average Joe and living in a $6.5 million mansion on the Atlantic. Mihos sublimates it with blue-collar verbal tics, repeated references to his Brockton roots, and an eager, seemingly guileless mien; whether this can hold up over the course of a high-stakes political campaign remains to be seen.)

Reporters love unfettered access to their subjects — and since the media warm to candidates who treat them well, and pass this enthusiasm on to the public, this approach should help Mihos sell himself as a kind of straight-talking anti-politician between now and Election Day. But there’s an element of risk here as well. When a candidate drifts into dangerous territory, a skillful minder can pull him or her back to safer ground. Working without a net ratchets up Mihos’s authenticity quotient. But it also gives him free rein to stumble.

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What’s Christy worth?

A lot, apparently. Mihos has promised on more than one occasion that he “won’t be outspent” in his run for governor. Since Republican front-runner Kerry Healey’s husband Sean Healey, the CEO of Affiliated Managers Group, recently sold $13 million in AMG stock, this may be Mihos’s way of saying he can spend at least that much.

But can he? In 1998, Mihos and his brother James sold their 142 Christy’s convenience stores to 7-Eleven’s parent company. Christy’s started as a single grocery store; when Christy and James took over in the late ’70s, there were about40 stores.This is the source of Mihos’s cash. (Mihos later bought back 10 stores on Cape Cod.) But because it was a private transaction, the terms of the sale remain a mystery.

He’s got more money than most of us, obviously — witness his $6.5 million home and the $5.5 million investment property located next door. Still, there’s reason to think Mihos may have allowed an exaggerated notion of his wealth to develop. Exhibit A: a $4.5 million mortgage from Citizens Bank that Mihos and his wife, Andrea, took out on their home in 2004.

Asked about this mortgage, Mihos says it’s actually a line of credit, and that he won’t need it to fund his campaign. He also backs off his vow not to be outspent. “I’m going to spend enough to be elected, okay?” Mihos says. “I won’t have to use that line of credit or sell houses or anything like that. It will certainly not be a hamster-driven campaign . . . . I’m going to spend enough to win.”


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