PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Cool Moose Party founder Robert Healey, a legendary local political figure who ran for lieutenant governor on a platform of abolishing the position and who spent $36 on a gubernatorial campaign while capturing 21 percent of the vote, has died. He was 58.
Known for his long-flowing beard and unconventional campaigns, Healey was an attorney who ran for either governor or lieutenant governor seven times from 1986 until 2014. He founded the Cool Moose Party in 1994 as an alternative to the two-party system that dominated state and national politics.
Healey was found dead Sunday night in his Barrington home, according to June Sager Speakman, president of the Barrington Town Council, and Police Chief John LaCross. A friend looking for Healey found him lying in his bed, LaCross said.
The state medical examiner's office said it is investigating the death.
Healey never won a statewide election, but his quirky, anti-establishment positions frequently earned him a large minority of votes. He ran five times on the Cool Moose ticket, once as an independent and once as the Moderate Party candidate.
He ran for lieutenant governor in 2010, vowing to abolish the position of lieutenant governor. He came in second with 39 percent of the votes.
In his 2014 campaign for governor, spending just $35.31 on office supplies and 98 cents on postage, he once again surprised experts by garnering 21 percent in a three-way gubernatorial race, losing to Democrat Gina Raimondo.
"Our outstanding performance demonstrated that people were dissatisfied with the system," Healey wrote on his campaign blog after the election. "The real story is that there are just too many out there still willing to play the party politics game. Together we shocked the system."
Raimondo was among several members of Rhode Island's political establishment who expressed their sadness Monday at Healey's death.
"I will miss his passion and willingness to engage in spirited debate," she said.
Healey served on the Warren School Committee before attempting his first gubernatorial run in 1986.
When his fledging Cool Moose Party was coalescing in the early 1990s, Healey held a convention that attracted a wide assortment of "people in combat fatigues, guns rights people, socialists and Green Party people. It was just bonkers," said former party activist Algernon D'Ammassa. "It ended up being a party that had a very libertarian slant."
Healey's irreverent persona and unusual appearance helped attract media attention and appealed to disaffected voters, said D'Ammassa, an actor and playwright who now teaches at New Mexico State University.
"He was prickly. A kind of mercurial guy. But also very benevolent and encouraging of people to participate in their politics," D'Ammassa said.
Healey was also an entrepreneur who at one time owned a cheese shop and other businesses. He was a fixture in the small towns of Rhode Island's East Bay region where he lived for many decades.
Speakman, who lived in the same Barrington neighborhood as Healey, sometimes invited him to speak at her political science classes at Roger Williams University.
"He gave my students a sense that anyone could run for elected office," she said. "He showed this is a system that's open to everyone, and he held our feet to the fire."