Bolting from the Republican Party, wealthy businessman Christy Mihos said yesterday he will run for governor as an independent, a decision that delivers a blow to GOP chances of victory in November.
Mihos concluded that the Republican Party establishment and its party rules for qualifying for the ballot were stacked against him, said a Mihos adviser who asked not to be named.
Mihos's presence on the November ballot is widely expected to draw independent voters from Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, the probable Republican nominee.
''I'm running as an independent," Mihos told the Globe last night. ''In the final analysis it was a question of conscience and heart. I'm not part of the establishment Republican Party, and I had to move on and do what I think is right. The party has morphed into what the Democrats are; they are both controlled by special interests."
Yesterday, Mihos, 56, offered a glimpse of the unpredictability he would bring to the campaign, telling a series of awkward jokes about his wife and predicting a ''very strange election" during an appearance with other candidates at a forum run by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.
His entry into the campaign as an independent candidate is a major development in the 2006 race, because he brings millions of dollars of his own money to the contest and could undermine Healey's efforts, strategists say. He is expected to announce his plans formally late this afternoon on the steps of the State House.
He joins four other candidates running for governor, three of whom are also millionaires willing to spend much of their own wealth on the campaign. The Democrats running are Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, who is generally considered the most financially modest of the candidates; Deval Patrick, a former corporate executive and assistant attorney general under President Clinton; and wealthy businessman Chris Gabrieli, who is collecting signatures to mount a run. Healey is also wealthy.
Healey has acknowledged privately that an independent candidacy by Mihos would be a major setback for her chances to win the office that the Republicans have occupied since William F. Weld won election for governor in 1990.
Asked by reporters yesterday whether Mihos would hurt her campaign if he ran as an independent, Healey appeared resigned to his presence in the race. ''I can't control Christy," she said. ''He's going to do whatever he wants to do, and I am just looking forward to this race."
Republican leaders, both in Massachusetts and Washington, have worked behind the scenes to persuade Mihos to either stay out of the gubernatorial race or to run in the Republican primary.
According to two sources with direct knowledge of the effort, Healey and her husband, Sean, had dinner with Mihos recently to discuss joining her ticket as lieutenant governor. Mihos has told reporters he has no interest in the position.
In addition, Healey campaign supporters offered him a guarantee that he would get the 15 percent of delegates' support at the GOP convention in April that is necessary to qualify for the September primary ballot if he runs as a Republican.
Late last year, national GOP leaders, including White House political director Sara Taylor and Governor Mitt Romney, also tried to persuade Mihos to challenge Senator Edward M. Kennedy this fall. Mihos, who lives in a gated community on Great Island in Yarmouth, across Lewis Bay from the Kennedy compound, rejected the overtures.
Mihos's disenchantment with the state Republican Party began when Acting Governor Jane M. Swift tried to remove him from the Turnpike Authority board after he refused to vote to raise tolls to pay for Big Dig costs. The Supreme Judicial Court reinstated him. Romney did not reappoint him to another term.
Mihos would face an electorate that is increasingly independent. Unenrolled voters made up 48.7 percent of registered voters in October 2004, Democrats accounted for 37.2 percent and Republicans 12.9 percent. In 1992, independent Ross Perot received more than 22 percent of the vote in Massachusetts, about 3 percentage points more than the national average.
In 1998, Mihos and his brother, James, sold 132 of the 142 Christy's stores in New England to Southland Corp., owner of the
Mihos has also set an ambitious fund-raising goal, aiming to bring in $350,000 a month. The first major fund-raiser will be March 28.
In the last month, Mihos has assembled a 10-member paid campaign staff. He has tapped Peter R. Pendergast, a former Turnpike Authority general counsel, to be his campaign manager. Others on the staff include a fund-raiser, several field operatives, and a former Bush White House speech writer. He is negotiating to rent office space in Kenmore Square for a campaign headquarters.
Mihos is also on the verge of hiring a high-profile Republican political consultant from Washington, whom aides declined to identify because the contract has not been finalized.
Mihos must collect the signatures of 10,000 registered voters by Aug. 1 to appear on the November ballot. He is also required to disenroll from the Republican Party by March 7 in order to run as an independent.
At the Biotechnology Council forum yesterday, Mihos seemed to acknowledge his long odds. He referred at one point to getting elected ''if lightning strikes." He pledged not to take campaign contributions from lobbyists, political action committees, or state employees or contractors.
''I will be unbought and unbossed," he said.
But if Mihos's independent streak will appeal to some voters, it could also prove to be a liability in his campaign. His impolitic remarks yesterday at the forum, for example, raised more than a few eyebrows.
Mihos was the last gubernatorial candidate to speak. After giving his wife, Andrea, a peck on the check, he strode to the microphone and promised to be brief by saying, ''My wife says I'm awful fast, so I'll try to stick to that." The joke prompted groans from many of the 400 people in attendance.
Moments later, Mihos noted that he had been married for 31 years; he joked that he married his wife when she was 5 years old. ''That will get me points tonight, too," he said to awkward silence.
After the event, Mihos was asked by reporters about his wife having told him in the past that she didn't want him to run for public office.
''She made a deal," Mihos said. ''She said, 'You can do whatever you want as long as I can have a new wardrobe.' It's going to cost me more to fund her wardrobe than it is to fund my campaign, I think."