In a legendary rise to prominence, Christy Mihos made a fortune helping build his family’s business into a chain of some 140 convenience stores, and then turned to politics as a leading critic of the Big Dig’s management and as a two-time gubernatorial candidate.
His fall from power was just as storied: domestic abuse allegations, squandered millions, bankruptcy. He spent 10 days in jail in January for failing to pay his former wife tens of thousands he owed as part of their divorce — an acrimonious split that included lurid accusations.
Mr. Mihos was 67 and had been diagnosed with cancer when he died in hospice care Saturday in Stuart, Fla., his sister, Marlene Bucuvalas, told the Cape Cod Times.
In an unwitting harbinger of how painfully his failings would one day be exposed to public scrutiny, Mr. Mihos pointedly refused to wear makeup for TV appearances in 2006 during his first run for governor. “You’re going to get me, warts and all, and pockmarked and busted tooth and glasses,” he told the Globe then. “I am me. I mean, I don’t want to be anyone else but me.”
For decades, that had been enough as he leapt from business success into the political arena. In 1990, he narrowly fell short of winning the Republican primary for a state Senate seat.
His financial fortunes seemed secure when the Mihos family sold the Christy’s convenience store chain to 7-Eleven in 1998. The following year, Mr. Mihos was appointed to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board, and he and fellow board member Jordan Levy sought greater oversight of Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consortium that managed the Big Dig — the Central Artery Project.
In a months-long battle that spilled into the courts, Acting Governor Jane M. Swift ousted Mr. Mihos and Levy from the board in November 2001 after they voted down her request for a Mass. Pike toll increase to help pay the authority’s share of the Big Dig’s spiraling costs. Six months later, the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that she overstepped her powers by removing them from the board.
“He was a strong voice when no one else was raising any questions about the largest public works project in the history of country,” Levy said Tuesday. “This was an unbelievable time. The amount of pressure and the amount of subtle threats were amazing, but he stood tall.”
By 2006, Mr. Mihos was running for governor as an independent against Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, a Republican, and Deval Patrick, the Democrat who was elected that November.
The grandson of a Greek immigrant who started the family’s empire with a single market in Brockton, Mr. Mihos liked to describe himself as “a Brockton kid” or “a grocer from Brockton,” where he lived into his early 20s.
He had left the Republican Party in early 2006 before launching his gubernatorial bid, and his Brockton accent was present on the campaign trail when he told voters: “I’m unbought and unbossed. I’m not a politician. If you’re looking for a politician, go to the other camp.”
Mr. Mihos had kept 10 of his family’s convenience stores on Cape Cod when the chain was sold. Framed news clippings — including a “Vindication for Mihos” headline from the Cape Cod Times — greeted visitors who passed through the foyer of the Christy’s of Cape Cod headquarters in Hyannis, where his personal office overlooked the harbor.
Turning phrases as a campaigner, he called Deval Patrick’s rhetoric “sweet nothings.” When TV host Jim Braude interviewed Mr. Mihos on NECN and asked what it took to keep a handle on the Big Dig, he answered: “Courage. Guts. Stones.”
Earthy, perhaps, but Mr. Mihos was a politician who ran a TV ad — politely called “Heads Up” — which depicted politicians and Big Dig engineers with their heads between their legs, doing something physically impossible.
Mr. Mihos, meanwhile, put more than $3 million of his money into the campaign, while raising only about $355,000 from others. The gamble failed to pay off: He garnered only 7 percent of the vote in 2006 and didn’t even make it past the state convention onto the primary ballot when he ran for governor again, as a Republican, in 2010.
That second run was hobbled by multiple reports and lawsuits alleging that he had failed to pay staffers and business suppliers. He also was fined $70,000 for campaign finance law violations. After losing decisively at the convention to Charlie Baker, Mr. Mihos told the Globe he wouldn’t run for office again. “Not with this wife,” chimed in his spouse, Andrea Mihos, who had tired of his political aspirations.
A Brockton High School graduate, Mr. Mihos received a bachelor’s degree from Stonehill College, where he drove a 1969 yellow Chevrolet Corvette that he bought with earnings from playing clarinet, saxophone, and bouzouki in a Greek band at weddings, and bass in a rock band.
Mr. Mihos’s father and uncle began expanding Christy’s Market in Brockton into a chain, a process Mr. Mihos and his brother, Jim, continued until the sale.
In 1974, Mr. Mihos married Andrea Argeros, with whom he had two children, Ashley and Christy. Their marriage ended in divorce.
More than a decade ago, the couple sold their longtime Cohasset home and moved into Great Island, a gated community in West Yarmouth. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Mr. Mihos told the Globe at the time.
Then in 2012, his life unraveled publicly when he pleaded not guilty to a charge of assaulting his wife. He issued a statement saying he was “now seeking the proper course of treatment to make myself a better husband, father, and person,” adding that he had “hurt the ones I love most.” In previous years, Mr. Mihos had undergone cancer treatment and had been injured in a fall. “I am not the same man I was,” he said in his statement.
His wife told police the assault occurred during an argument over his “addiction to hiring prostitutes, strippers, and porn stars for sex.” The Cape Cod Times reported that Mr. Mihos filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2013 for Christy’s of Cape Cod.
A year earlier, he had published the book “Rotten to the Core: The Real Dirt on Boston’s Big Dig,” writing in the preface: “This is an arduous story to tell, as it evokes hard and painful moments in life, but it’s all true. Every last, ugly piece of my book is true.”
A funeral service for Mr. Mihos will be held Thursday in St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Fort Pierce, Fla.
“It’s sad to see someone go from the heights of success and power — of really believing in issues — to the fall he had on a personal basis, and to suffer the medical issues he did. I’m deeply saddened by it,” Levy said.
During their days highlighting Big Dig mismanagement, Levy added, Mr. Mihos “was out there fighting the good fight. He did battle on behalf of the people of Massachusetts, and did it well.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.