Robert "Cool Moose" Healey, who shocked political observers in Rhode Island and beyond by attracting more than 20 percent of the gubernatorial vote in 2014 while barely spending any money, and who brought an irreverent yet informed approach to a series of campaigns, has died at age 58.
Barrington police said they were dispatched to Healey's home at about 9:41 pm Sunday for a report of a possible sudden death. Healey's body was found in an upstairs bedroom and he was pronounced dead a short time later.
In a statement, Police Chief John LaCross said his department was alerted by a friend who "became concerned that he hadn't seen Mr. Healey and didn't know if he was home or out. He said he called Mr. Healey’s cell phone and heard the cell phone ringing in the front room of the house. The friend said he then went upstairs to see if Mr. Healey was sleeping. He said he found Mr. Healey unresponsive and immediately called 911."
Healey was known for his sharp critique of status quo politics, as well as his long hair and bushy beard. Because of Healey's unconventional appearance, former Providence Journal political columnist M. Charles Bakst quipped that Healey was a haircut and a shave away from the governor's office.
Healey made four runs for governor and three for lieutenant governor, although his biggest impact may have come in his last campaign.
In 2014, Healey surprised observers by attracting 21 percent of the gubernatorial vote while pegging his campaign spending at under $40. He was a late Moderate Party entry after an earlier candidate dropped out due to illness, and overcame a challenge to his candidacy by the state Republican Party.
Asked at the time who he'd vote for if he wasn't in the race with Democrat Gina Raimondo and Republican Allan Fung, Healey said, "I probably would vote for neither one of them. Oftentimes, if I don't agree with either one of them, I skip the race. I think the issue here is not a three-way race, it's actually a two-race: it's whether you want change or whether you want more of the same. I think Gina and Allan are both nice people, believing in what they want to believe in. You're looking at polls that say 60 percent of the people think Rhode Island's going in the wrong direction, and yet they're going to put the same type of people [in office]."
Healey ran for lieutenant governor, most recently in 2010, on a platform of abolishing that office -- which he characterized as an annual waste of about $1 million in taxpayer spending.
State Sen. John Pagliarini (R-Tiverton) said he introduced a bill in February based on Healey's idea of abolishing that lieutenant governor's office, and that Healey planned to come to the Statehouse to testify in favor.
Healey had established his Cool Moose Party after witnessing Ross Perot's approach during the 1992 presidential race. "People all of a sudden became aware that they didn't have to choose between dumb and dumber," and voters remained angry about the state banking crisis, Healey told me for a 2002 story in the Providence Phoenix.
The name for Healey's party was a nod both to Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party and to the tale of a stray moose that wandered through Cranston in the 1980s before being killed by state environmental officials.
In the 1994 gubernatorial race, Healey got about 9 percent of the vote. Some observers thought margin that was a factor in Republican Lincoln Almond's victory over Myrth York.
After a mid-90s convention of the Cool Moose Party at CCRI, bylaws were written and Healey was elected party chairman (although he limited his tenure to three years). In 1996, about 20 candidates ran under the Cool Moose banner, although none were elected. Healey got about seven percent of the gubernatorial vote in 1998, but enthusiasm for his alternative party waned and it lost official recognition.
"I think a lot of the third political parties are people who like to rail against the system and have no idea of how to govern or would have a limited ability of how to actually govern," Healey told me in 2002. "It's not that they're doing something that's futile. They're doing something that serves a valuable purpose, as long as they recognize what that purpose is. Third-party politics is fraught with delusions of grandeur. As long as you can put that into perspective, you understand what third-party politics is all about. It's about being outside the mainstream, being able to challenge the status quo. As one person said to me, `You can't beat City Hall, but you can piss on the steps.' "
Healey was a Warren native and Barrington resident. He had various business interests, was a former member of the Warren School Committee, and previously ran a cheese shop in Warren.
This post has been updated.